Thursday, July 12, 2012

I Blame My Family for My Big Mouth

I'm appropriating this meme.  Deal with it.

Back in the day, some nations (and I use that in the Native sense) found it extremely rude to ask someone's name.  It would be like shaking someone's hand and asking his age ("How old are you, like 35?  You look at least 35.")  Upon first meeting the native you're trying to get to know, one of his friends might say, "He's known for his tremendous singing voice."  This forces you to begin sentences with, "So... You with the Great Voice-" (and possibly end them with "how much farther over these hills before I find a tribe it's easier to talk to?").

See, you were supposed to know their name already.  If you admitted to not knowing it, it was like calling them beneath knowing ("Holy shit, you're 40?  That's fucking old, dude.").  A friendly greeting with a reasonable question on one side, cutting a fart during a funeral on the other.

Although we were known to change names several times over the course of our lives, Mohawks / Kanien'kehá:ka didn't observe that custom.  Meet a Mohawk, ask his name, and he'd tell you (maybe because it had just changed in a ceremony last week and he wanted you to understand where he was in life).  But we have our own quirk: we can't keep secrets.  That's the main complaint of people who marry into the family, anyway.  It's also a charge I've had leveled against me more than once.

It's not true.  If you tell me something is a secret, I will take it to the grave.  If you don't, well...

There was a complicated maze of mirrors involved in Mohawk communication, designed to minimize the emotional impact of hurtful information.  You wouldn't want to embarrass someone by telling him what an idiot he is ("Smith seems to think the Wampum belt we gave him is for holding his pants up.  It took my wife a month to make that, as a symbol of our friendship and mutual trust.  Dear Woods, talk to him for me, could you?").  You gave Smith the respect, the courtesy, of explaining what happened to your friend.  Your friend, impartial, level-headed, would approach the dumbass and tell him how he screwed up ("Smith, yeah, hey.  That wampum belt New Town gave you?  You keep it with your most prized possessions, like your Bible and that letter your wife wrote during the war.  It's not for keeping your britches in place.  No, don't apologize.  No one wants to see that.  Just take it off and pack it up until it's time to go home.").

Next time Smith met New Town, sans belt, the two might share a knowing nod.

The same way you'd shake hands with a Native today and not be surprised to hear him tell you his name is Bill, Mohawks don't use this process now.  Still, there's a cultural echo.  There is nothing sacred and nothing shared in my family that won't come out.  Add to that my status as the youngest in the family, the child who got laughs by repeating things he'd overheard but didn't understand, who got praise from adults for innocently sharing his siblings and cousins activities (read: narcing; informing), and you've got the recipe for a big mouth.

Side Note: this is not to be confused with loud mouth.  I'm generally a quiet person, but when I'm in a comfortable setting - among friends and family - I will talk.  Sometimes too much.

I don't relay your secret to gossip, I relay it because I think you want me to.  Why else would you tell me what an asshole that co-worker is?  How much this friend's words hurt?  You want me to go to that person and tell them how they've wronged you so that they can make it right.  Otherwise, what good does it serve?

Turns out, this is something people do.  They vent.  They blow off steam.  They voice their feelings so they can decide whether it's worth addressing the person head-on.  They talk shit and expect it not to get back to the person about whom they are talking it.

When I think of people judging the world based on how they see it, I think of small-minded individuals wondering if some person is going to steal because that's what they'd do if given the chance.  I don't think of me, sharing other people's words that were meant to be kept private.

So to everyone whose secrets I've spilled and embarrassed, I'm sorry.

I get it from my mom's side of the family.

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