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A meme I can't stand.

via wispfox
note: no criticism of wispfox is intended or implied

Wisdom From an Indian Elder, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer - Indian Elder

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for,
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow,
if you have been opened by life's betrayals
or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own,
without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own;
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers
and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic,
or to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the the story you're telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself;
if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every day,
and if you can source your life from God's presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine,
and still stand on the edge of a lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon, "Yes!"

It doesn't interest me to know where you live or own much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief
and despair, weary and bruised the bone,
and do what needs to be done for the children.

It doesn't interest me who you are, how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me
and not shrink back.

Boring old factual corrections

The "Indian Elder" part wasn't tacked on there the last time I saw the poem being circulated. Oriah Mountain Dreamer is not an Indian Elder. She is a white female poet. (Note, no disparagement implied; so am I.) The poem is not called "Wisdom from an Indian Elder." It's called "The Invitation."

The poet describes some of the other ways the poem has been changed as it has circulated. One change she didn't mention is that the line breaks and stanza breaks she put in have been mangled. (The original poem is posted on her web site.)

PC ranting

It tells me something I really don't like about the culture I live in that some people need to pretend this is written by an "Indian Elder" instead of a white female in order for it to speak to them.

It also tells me something I don't like that anyone believes stuff like this comes directly out of Native American culture, which (from my limited understanding) has a very different view of individuality than what's expressed here.

The kind of ignorance that erases cultural differences and goes on to ascribe parts of one's own culture to another group's culture is an insidious form of cultural imperialism.

Talking back to the poem's message

This is a good poem that expresses a feeling of frustration about superficiality. But I really hate it when people think it's a good way to approach life and other people in general. It's way too limiting, self-righteous, and judgemental for that.

Yes, I want to know what someone is like on the inside. I also want to know what their situation in the world is, what they're like on the outside, and how that affects the inside.

And I certainly care whether what someone tells me is true. If they want to invoke poetic license to say something, by all means they should, but that's a long shot from not caring.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 5th, 2003 10:17 am (UTC)
Thank you. I really am bothered by that poem, and when people tell me that's their personal credo...feh.
Sep. 5th, 2003 10:22 am (UTC)
You go, girl!
Sep. 5th, 2003 10:44 am (UTC)
For a long time, writers would claim that their work actually came from the revered past. With the Renaissance, people began claiming credit for their own work, then becoming litigious about it.

The poem strikes me as somewhere between a call to rise above superficialities and a proclamation of the speaker's spiritual voyeurism.
Sep. 5th, 2003 10:49 am (UTC)
The speaker should get on LiveJournal. Plenty of spiritual voyeurism to be had here!
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 5th, 2003 11:14 am (UTC)
"When I consider how my light is spent,
'Ere half my days in this dark world, and wide
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
A true account, 'lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
that murmur soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work, or His own gifts. Who best
bear His mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest.
They also serve who only stand and wait."

--John Milton

It is possible not to be too simplistic by virtue of putting something into words.
Sep. 5th, 2003 11:52 am (UTC)
simplicity in words
sure, it is possible. i am having a lengthy discussion about this sort of thing with the *poing* right now, in which i am explaining why i hold several apparently contradictory opinions at once: i don't put quotes and pithy sayings in my sig no matter how much i like them, and i do understand the desire for corporate slogans. :)

i am ok with simplified writing if i can see that it's a crystallization of something complicated about which the author has thought a lot. i can't stand lip service and pablum.

it's not always obvious which is which. and pithy sayings have an amazing power to reach large numbers of people.
Sep. 5th, 2003 03:32 pm (UTC)
Re: simplicity in words
I don't use other people's words in my sig for the same reason I only use my own artwork for my userpics (although I am often tempted to do otherwise in both cases)... a small sense of vanity, and a hesitance to speak using other people's voice.
Sep. 5th, 2003 12:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting that, dear Piglet. Pondering is. And there's a strange ranty ramble brewing that goes back and forth between the questions in Milton's poem and the ones in the piece from Oriah (um, forgot name, sorry).

This urge is battling it out with another, to wit, the intense desire to edit and distill the Oriah piece into something other, something very intense. Hmm.

Pondering is.

Thanks for the initial impetus, O Cat of Fire. Also, your annoyance? I seeble thee for it. The attribution part is bothersome in several directions at once. (I wonder if Oriah will get any backlash from people who believe she is the one who called herself an Indian Elder; people spreading that misinformation might be presenting her with a whole kettle of unhappinesses.)
Sep. 5th, 2003 12:21 pm (UTC)
I'd really love to see both the ranty ramble and the distillation.

I agree about the potential for backlash. (Remembering the backlash you've gotten for daring to claim authorship of your FAQ, because it was included without attribution in The Ethical Slut!) The poet discusses the transmutations of the poem and its author on the first page of her web site, probably for that very reason.
Sep. 5th, 2003 12:25 pm (UTC)
Correction: not on the first page, but here
Sep. 5th, 2003 12:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reassuring me that you didn't feel attacked.

I have no problem with your liking the poem. :-)

As I said, I think the poem is a good expression of frustration about superficiality. (The poet said she wrote it after attending a party, and it makes sense as a response to that.)

I just don't think it's a good primary philosophy of life.

I hasten to add that I don't think you are using it as one. But I suspect, given the way it's been transformed into "Wisdom from an Indian Elder," that some people might be.

I guess my point is that I don't think the poem expresses "wisdom," particularly. To me, it expresses a particular emotional state, and not one that I approve of living in a whole lot of the time.
Sep. 5th, 2003 02:50 pm (UTC)
Gedanken Experiments R Us
Springing off in a slightly different direction....

I wonder how people would react to the same piece of $pseudo-philosophical_treacle that was merely attribtued to different authors, such as $native_american_leader, $hip_hop_poet, $teenpop_singing_star, $oriental_mystic, and $caucasian_guy_in_position_of_power?
Sep. 5th, 2003 08:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Gedanken Experiments R Us
Add $despised_historical_figure - there was a lot of flack several years ago, when the Microsoft internal newsletter published a quote from Mao in its usual quote box. The quote had nothing to do with Communism, or even politics, whatsoever; it was actually a nice little comment - I don't remember what it was about, spirituality or maybe history. The next issue was filled with angry letters from people screaming "How DARE you publish a quote from that MONSTER???"

In my world, information has value on its own merits, regardless of the source. The source can certainly inform and influence the information, especially if the information pertains heavily to the source; but the information is not - equated with the entirety of its origin. "Mein Kampf" (sp?) would probably still be considered a horrible document if it wasn't written by Hitler. Battlefield Earth would certainly still be considered a horrible movie if it wasn't made by Scientologists.

... I'm just wandering all over the place, aren't I? ;)
Sep. 5th, 2003 11:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Gedanken Experiments R Us
I agree. I also think there are biases, conscious and subconscious. With respect to rmjwell's original experiment, similar things have been studied, usually with the result that a piece attributed to, say, a woman receives more negative comments than the same piece attributed to a man, and so on.
Sep. 5th, 2003 03:24 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I guess I don't see the self-righteous part. Most of it strikes me as a bit treacly. Although I do agree with caring about truth. It's odd -- most of the poem doesn't affect me one way or the other, but there are individual lines I like a lot.

Such as "I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every day" (although the following line --
"and if you can source your life from God's presence" makes me cringe, even though I agree with the sentiment).

And "I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children." I like that, if for no other reason than I know what it means to have to do that.

For me, we are formed by the journeys we are on. If I do not know a little bit of how you are in the world, I have no information to evaluate the stories you tell me. If I don't know how you are in the world, you are in some sense created in my imagination. And knowing more and more of your journey may make me view you much differently. There are behaviors I tolerate (not excuse) when I know why a person acts the way they do that I am less likely to tolerate without that information.
Sep. 5th, 2003 11:26 pm (UTC)
The self-righteous part, to me, is the part where the speaker doesn't care about the stuff on the outside. And also the part where the speaker seems to suggest that if you haven't done or can't do those things, you're worth less. (I'm reading that into it, it's not said outright.)

Note: the word "God" was added by someone other than the original author. She used the word "beauty."

I like and agree with some stuff in the poem too.

And what you say in your last paragraph is why I don't agree with the opinion expressed in the poem. I think it's important to know the outside as well as the inside.
Sep. 5th, 2003 10:16 pm (UTC)
This poem was actually read today (named correctly, but without attribution) at Kathy Lampman's funeral. There, it was right and good.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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