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Playing Cowboys and Indians

On August 19th, 2016

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Lynne

Last week David Brooks wrote a column in the International New York Times with the extraordinary assertion that in 18th century America, when the Native Americans and the European settlers lived cheek by jowl, not a single Indian defected to go live with the settlers, but many settlers took off to live with the Native Americans.

At the time, the colonial settlers had embraced what we regard as the ‘good’ and ‘civilized life’: rich, ‘advanced’, with single-family dwellings and a good deal of privacy.

The natives, however, had a lifestyle we might consider primitive because it was communal and tribal, with virtually all activities, from childcare to hunting, done in the company of others.

 

Last week David Brooks wrote a column in the International New York Times with the extraordinary assertion that in 18th century America, when the Native Americans and the European settlers lived cheek by jowl, not a single Indian defected to go live with the settlers, but many settlers took off to live with the Native Americans.

At the time, the colonial settlers had embraced what we regard as the ‘good’ and ‘civilized life’: rich, ‘advanced’, with single-family dwellings and a good deal of privacy.

The natives, however, had a lifestyle we might consider primitive because it was communal and tribal, with virtually all activities, from childcare to hunting, done in the company of others.

Nevertheless, during wars with the Indians, when Europeans were captured and had ample opportunities to escape, they refused to.

In fact, those that were ‘rescued’ hid, refusing to return to the colonial way of life even when the Natives and the settlers tried to engage in a prisoner swap.

At one point, some of the European female prisoners had to be forcibly tied up to be sent home; once they got there they escaped and fled back to the Indians.

And no Indians could be persuaded to stay with the white people, even if they had more luxurious premises.

On those occasions when the settlers tried to civilize some Indian children by bringing them into the colonial fold, the children refused to stay.

Brooks quotes Benjamin Franklin, who wrote in 1751: ‘When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return.’

The modern disconnect
This suggests that the modern ‘civilized’ lives we’ve chosen to lead are not consistent with who we really are. When writing my book The Bond, I discovered other societies who live very differently from us, with a world view more in keeping with the findings of the new science.

These cultures conceive of the universe as an indivisible whole, and this central belief has bred an extraordinarily different way of seeing and interacting with the world.

They believe that they are in relationship with all of life – even with the earth itself. We see the thing; they see the glue between the things – the thing that holds them together.

The essential thing for these societies is not the individual, but the relationship between individuals, which they view as a thing in itself.

They’ve understood the essential nature of humanity as a coming together — a communion — and as a consequence, they live happier lives, with lower divorce statistics, fewer troubled children, less crime and violence, and a stronger community.

The power of the group
Our natural instinct is always to merge with the other, to move away from the atomization of our individuality to the holism of the group. Deep connection, rather than competition, is the quality most essential to human nature: as those colonial women discovered, we were never meant to live a life of isolation and self-serving survival.

The Native Americans attracted the settlers because they had chosen a better way to live, a more authentic way to be — the way, I believe, that you and I were meant to live.

And they did so because they bought into another narrative — another world view of who we are and why we’re here than that espoused by our culture, most particularly by our current science.

No wonder those colonials preferred to play Indians than Cowboys.

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