Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Little drops of rain wear away the greatest of stones.
Why criticize Native stereotypes?
A quick note on criticizing:
Native people have been stereotyped as primitive or savage for about 500 years, which is roughly twice as long as any other American minority. My sense is that they're sick and tired of it. It wounds them in ways non-Indians can't understand because they haven't been there.
If you read a newspaper like Indian Country Today (ICT), you'll see complaints about stereotypes almost every week. These complaints usually revolve around 1) offensive sports mascots or 2) depictions of Indians as bums getting rich off welfare or casinos. No one, as far as I can tell, is scrutinizing the vast array of pop products (movies, TV shows, comic books and strips) for other stereotypes. And I've read ICT for several years.
Therefore, I trust I'm providing a useful service. It 1) addresses a real Native concern and 2) doesn't duplicate other efforts. Some people may think it a waste of time, but I've yet to hear any Native person say that. What they consider valid is what matters.
Until Native people arise and say, "We don't want to hear how the majority culture keeps stereotyping us," I think I'll keep fighting the good fight. The criticism will end when the stereotyping ends.
Playing the "blame game"
Hurricane Katrina made the phrase "blame game" au courant for a week or two. It provides an object lesson in why the so-called blame game is necessary. In other words, why those who criticize are helping rectify a situation and those who criticize the critics aren't.
From Eric Zorn's column in the Chicago Tribune, 9/8/05:
Bush may scorn blame game, but he has to play
Using the therapy-speak term "blame game" as if this were a psychodrama and not a scandal trivializes a dispute that's not only unavoidable, but also necessary and even helpful.
Did the expressions of outrage and frustration directed at Washington by New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, local emergency management director Terry Ebbert and many commentators speed relief efforts and save lives?
We may never know. But it's hard to believe that the massive infusion of relief supplies and personnel that hit New Orleans Friday wasn't at least partly an effort at damage control by those badly stung by bitter accusations that they weren't doing enough.
The clamor for accountability and the threat of consequences have a way of grabbing a person's attention and inspiring him to do better, not next time, but right now.
In blasting the "blame game" this week, Bush told reporters that "there'll be ample time for people to figure out what went right and what went wrong," but that today, "we've got to solve problems."
But solving problems and diagnosing failure go together.
Our criminal and civil justice systems as well as the watchdog functions of the media and perhaps the preservation of order in your own house and workplace are based on the connections between responsibility, accountability and consequences.
The whip-hand threat of blame is a constant incentive to do right.
In the case of the Gulf Coast tragedy it also serves as a deterrent—a reminder to local, state and federal leaders of the future that there's holy hell to pay on the spot, not in the reposeful luxury of "ample time," for blundering into and through a crisis.
Here in particular, blame is no game.
Experts agree: criticism is necessary
Those who have studied the dynamics of success say understanding failure is the key. The way you do that is by analyzing mistakes and flaws, or criticizing. From "The Advantage of Falling Short" in the LA Times, 7/14/02:
"Everything relates to failure," says Henry Petroski, a professor of civil engineering and history at Duke University in North Carolina. "We grow up experiencing failure as children and then we go through it as adults. The key is understanding that failure is how we improve. You do this not by ignoring the failure, but by recognizing it, examining it thoroughly and not making any changes until you truly understand it." Companies, government agencies and even entire professions can learn from failure in the same way, Petroski adds. Civil engineers, for example, have analyzed catastrophes and integrated lessons learned over time into the design and construction of future projects.
Martin Seligman is a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and a pioneer in studying how people cope successfully with adversity. His writings on "learned optimism" became classics in this field and inspired dozens of academics to begin looking at the positive qualities that help certain people rise above hard times. They found that those who turn failure into advantage share a handful of characteristics:
They possess the analytical skills to take apart a fiasco and understand it well enough to make changes, says George Vaillant, director of the Study of Adult Development at Harvard Medical School. Vaillant has seen people develop this trait and use it to create successes, even late in life.
They have "the capacity to form meaningful relationships," Vaillant says. "These people can metabolize others-taking in what they have to teach-rather than being oblivious. These are the ones who find mentors throughout their lives. They have the ability to find meaning in what happens to them."
They also have the ability to be realistic, rather than undyingly optimistic, in the face of crises. Business management guru James Collins, author of the recent best-selling book "Good to Great," says this point was brought home vividly during an interview he conducted with a Vietnam War prisoner, a retired naval officer. Realists succeed under the worst conditions, the officer said, while optimists "died of broken hearts."
More on criticism
Russ doesn't understand criticism
Brains enough to criticize
Educating Russ about criticism
The point of movie criticism
Jawboning as the best solution
The clash of ideas and why it's good
"'Critics' are NOT open-minded, fair, or ever apolitical."
. . .
All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.
Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.
Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.