The above photo of my arm between my two doggies. The photo has nothing to do with the post, other than maybe this image is heart-softening.
I have been thinking of posting more "meaty" posts here, something that leads a conversation, or gives more for someone to think about and digest.
This one is about one of our Iñupiaq values, "avoidance of conflict".
I remember one time I was driving my Mom and I up the highway from Anchorage to Fairbanks. We were going to go visit family up there and it was winter time. For some reason we were driving late at night and I took the opportunity to ask my Mom, an Iñupiaq Elder about each of our Iñupiaq values. She broke down each value for me, gave me the deeper meaning, from her knowledge and perspective and training. She allowed me to record our conversation. I'm not sure where that voice memo is now, as it was probably about 5 years ago when this drive happened. But I still remember what she said and I will share some of it with you now.
One of our Iñupiaq values is that of "avoidance of conflict". When you read the value, it sparks images of a person seeing conflict ahead of them and then going "oh no, conflict over there, I am going to avoid it all together and go this other way instead" or maybe it evokes an image of you having conflict happening right in front of your face and you are silently taking it all in, not saying anything or doing anything to "avoid the conflict". You can think of many more scenarios like this where you deftly "avoid the conflict" like maybe having wrist bands on that bounce the conflict away some magical kind of way.
When I went into a deeper conversation with my Mom about this value, she told me that the above avoidance scenarios couldn't be further from the truth. Avoidance of conflict means that when conflict arises, any hint of the conflict, you deal with it right then and there, head on, with all the humor and love in your heart. You say something. You confront it. As an Iñupiaq, you probably deftly confront the possible conflict with a joke, or a way that makes everyone laugh - a way that makes everyone laugh yet at the same time deftly confronts the possible conflict head on, right in that moment, no holds barred.
It reminds me of another story, this time I was working for the North Slope Borough School District in Utkeagvik, Alaska. Some friends of mine were coming up to do some work and they hadn't been to Utqeagvik before. I was making a list of slang used in Utqeagvik at the time, so they could surprise the locals with the venacular of the big village. In this process of making the "welcome to Utqeagvik" orientation packet for my artist friends, I found a funny thing in the closets and files of the NSBSD...
It was an orientation packet for teachers new to the school district, new to the Arctic, new to the Iñupiaq. It was filled with lots of common sense things about life in the Arctic, and then around bullet point number 22 it went something like this:
22: Iñupiaq People are extremely blunt. They will say exactly what they think about something right to your face, right in the moment. If you upset them, they will let you know immediately, with no hesitation, but sometimes their commentary on what you are doing wrong (or different) will come in the form of a joke, often at your expense. Be prepared for an Iñupiaq person to go right up to you and say what they feel, without hesitation or sometimes what you might feel is a filter.
It went something like that. It made me laugh and it made me feel loved, knowing that I am not the only blunt Iñupiaq out there, tackling any possible conflict head on with no holds barred.
Dealing with the conflict right away is the "avoidance of conflict". You don't allow anything to build up, any resentments or "I wish I had said this" or misunderstandings about what was really meant in that moment. It allows any potential conflict to immediately be handled, with joy and love, wit and humor.
I am thinking about this value because I have a tendency to call out what I see as not being right - I call it out right in that moment. This quality can seem to be off-putting at times, and at times people would rather dance around or even hide from conflict than have an instant discussion, face to face.
Sometimes people feel more comfortable dealing with conflict by talking around the conflict - for example, telling a friend about the incident instead of "going to the source" and then hoping the friend will possibly tell another friend who will tell the person who is in conflict with the first person. Indirect approach.
I prefer to "go directly to the source" a value that was also shared in my Art Equity facilitation training that I attended in Atlanta last year. I felt right at home when we spoke about this shared value.
I have so many memories of being a young Iñupiaq woman and one of my Uncles or Aunties or even just someone in the community, they let me know what I am doing wrong or what they find strange - and somehow they make everyone around them laugh (including me) and I would manage to feel embraced and put in check all at the same time. I love that about my People.
I am just now feeling more confident in saying the right joke or comment that can make people laugh, feel loved and also know that I disagree with them, all at the same time.
All at the same time. This is my take on "avoidance of conflict. As a disclaimer, I am only one Iñupiaq person and by no means represent all Iñupiaq people, as we are all so amazingly unique.
Allison Akootchook Warden