The Dialogue of Elders
By: Brad Cole

Numerous icy trails, some curling out for miles into the surrounding forest, entangle the small village where I live. Many of the people heat their homes with firewood that they haul by snowmachine and rain supplies some with drinking water in the warmer months.

I work as a teacher here and have always admired a community that can live off the land. It makes the people more real and thoughtful about their relationships within the Alaskan wilderness.

But as a village teacher I see many of the children, as anywhere in the world, being less thoughtful and lacking in discipline. The type of discipline that pulls one together well enough so they can march forward in their lives and achieve goals they have set for themselves and as a community. A rigorous discipline that can give them the sense of direction and determination they will need for living in the winter-hardened tundra.

Where does this discipline come from? It comes from caring enough about yourself to listen well to the advise of others, especially Elders. Listening to a trusted, clear minded adult who is deeply involved in the life of the youth, explaining to them the difference between right and wrong, good versus evil, light from dark, life versus death. The young need be able to bond with experienced Elders who can model proper ways of thinking and seeing that will deepen the youths understanding of themselves and the twilight, snowy world in which they seek the moose and salmon.

In the ancient world the philosopher Socrates taught young people in his school. He believed in a form of character education using questioning to nurture and expand a student’s power of reasoning and insightfulness. To help them possess good judgment so they can more clearly see and understand what is important and good in their lives. It is a belief that one’s quality and well being depends on your level of understanding. One needs to know and understand the many elements in which one is dealing with to have a successful life, and Alaska has some strong elements!

Socratic reasoning is a highly disciplined way of seeing the world that is not done impulsively, but carefully and then it decides on the correctness of the person’s thinking by its ability to focus clearly, question deeply and summarize information truthfully. It then compares this information to the deeper, more universal truths one has come to believe in.

Truth is seen as a virtue that will strengthen the character of an individual. One’s vision alone is responsible for what a person comes to believe in and what they can see or cannot see in their life. The strength, clarity and correctness of one’s thinking can either hurt or help a person; it makes them either sharp minded or dim witted. It has direct impact on their ability to live with family, friends and the village community. The way one decides to go about thinking can make them either a lover or a hater.

A proper character education should produce individuals that are morally good and virtuous. This in turn makes for a successful community of people who are well grounded in a caring, respectful way. It can also make them more creative and productive business partners. Before radio and television people only had each other and the wind to listen to and I suppose they saw and understood life better than we do today.

The community should groom and promote those who demonstrate insightfulness, a real world intuitive intelligence that can see clearly into the nature of things; the ones who can think and see outside of the box. Their leadership style would transcend politics by truthfully identifying the real causes of social problems and employ an appropriate and timely response to solve them.

This way of insightfulness can lead to a journey of self-exploration that may trail on for a lifetime. The birth of a new, creative thinking style that brings with it a more healthy and genuine life that is in harmony with the real world.

What better form of education could a child have than one that assists in the growth of their character and well being? Living in a community that truly supports one another, it is important to have people who are responsible and caring. I believe that this is the Alaskan Way.