For millenia beyond count, Vancouver Island has been the home of people we now call indigenous or First Nations people. The people who have historically inhabited the west coast of mid-Vancouver Island are made up of fourteen communities, collectively known as Nu-chah-nulth.
Recently I was introduced to a book, written in 2004, called Tsawalk: A Nu-chah-nulth Worldview by E. Richard Atleo.
Tsawalk means one.
E. Richard Atleo, whose Nu-chah-nulth name is Umeek, is a hereditary chief. He served as co-chair of the internationally recognised Scientific Panel for Sustainable Forest Practises in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island and is a teacher of First Nations Studies at Vancouver Island University.
Here’s a short explanation of what the book is about (I’m borrowing the words of a couple of the reviewers of the book to keep it short):
Western philosophy has long held scientific rationalism in a place of honour. Reason, that particularly exalted human quality, has become steadily distanced from spirit, faith, and intuition.
Umeek argues that a spiritual view of nature is in many ways superior to the western disenchantment of the world.
Tsawalk, meaning ‘one’ is, for Umeek that spiritual view. Tsawalk sees the nature of existence as an integrated and orderly whole which recognises the intrinsic relationship between the physical and spiritual. By retelling and analysing the Nu-chah-nulth origin stories, Umeek demonstrates how Tsawalk provides a viable theoretical alternative that both complements and expands the view of reality presented by Western science.
Now, the reason I told you all that is because I read something in Tsawalk that made me sit up and take notice. At one point in his narrative, Umeek says this:
“…community is a natural phenomenon … Interdependence is taken for granted. A specific Nu-chah-nulth teaching associated with the idea of community is that if one doesn’t ask for help when help is needed then one is not friendly, one is not kind. Among Nu-chah-nulth a very strong teaching is the admonition to be kind. One of the strongest criticisms of another person’s character is to say ‘that person is not kind.’ Consequently, a person in need is taught and encouraged to depend upon neighbours, and this interdependence is considered one of the strengths of a traditional Nu-chah-nulth community.”
Umeek is saying that refusing to ask for help when in need is unkind, because self-reliance breaks the bond of interdependence.
What a revolutionary idea.
For most of us, immersed as we are in the values of self-reliance and rugged individualism, asking for help is to admit weakness, to be a burden. Asking for help is something you might even be ashamed of. Strength is all about self-reliance. Needing help puts me in a one-down position from you.
You can fill in the blanks if you like about how you feel when you have to ask someone for help. Do you feel you are being kind to them when you ask them for help?
The point I’m trying to make is that when life’s challenges threaten to overwhelm us, or someone we care about, the best way to find our way through the chaos, anxiety and despair is to ask for help and find support from people who understand and don’t judge.
What that means is this: the best most effective guard against succumbing to addiction or codependent, enabling behaviour is – other people. It’s not all that difficult to understand, but most of us can’t get that simple formula through our thick skulls.
It might make it easier to reach out if we could learn from the Nu-chah-nulth people – look upon it as friendliness, a kindness I am doing for my neighbour.
It is science after all – neurobiology to be precise – that is proving to our rational, skeptical minds that healing happens in a supportive community.
As much as we might want to pretend otherwise, we are relational beings – community is a natural phenomenon – and our happiness, our very survival, is dependent on one another. We are, every one of us – interdependent.
Dale MacIntyre M.Div, RCC