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The Art of Listening in Talking Circles

Whenever Native Americans come together in groups with things to discuss, there are certain rules that we always observe. Those unspoken rules show whether the participants were reared in a good way. No one has to make a comment about another person's behavior; it is evident through their actions. Listening is the foremost rule that determines a person's integrity and substance.

Talking Circles are what we use to bring problems out into the open, to find solutions, to share our feelings and experiences, and to honor the Sacred Points of View of every person present. To interrupt a speaker is to bring dishonor on his or her words, to bring dishonor on one's upbringing, one's family, Tribe, Clan, and Nation.

Jamie Sams, Earth Medicine


Art by Ioyan Mani
Note: Maxine Noel signs her artwork with her Sioux name Ioyan Mani, which translates as "Walk Beyond."
View more of her artwork, which is available on cards, totes, mugs and more, at the Whetung Gallery.



Do you catch yourself interrupting people when they're speaking? Or worse, finishing their sentences for them? It's probably safe to say that we've all done both of these things at some point.  But what if we made a concerted effort to listen better, wouldn't that lead to greater understanding of the points of view being shared and greater respect for each other?


Exercise: Make a talking stick. It doesn't have to be anything fancy - it could be a plain stick of wood or one embelleished with leather, beads, gemstones, feathers and other natural elements. When two or more people gather to discuss an issue, pass the stick with the understanding that the person holding it has the floor and no one is permitted to interrupt until they pass the stick in turn (usually to the person on their right). In  the interest of fairness, it should also be understand by all that while everyone should have an equal chance to be heard, each person should be mindful to speak clearly and succinctly so that others will have a chance to have their say.


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