Wednesday, January 5, 2011

philosophical work through the hands

i have met beautiful and experienced people from all sort of humanity. I think instead of saying we are part of this race and that race too much, we should say i am part of humanity. Because in the end, you are just a human who does human bodily functions: eat, cry, fart, puke, breathe and shit. We are just so simple.

anyways, one of the bodily functioning humans that i met was an elder from rankin inlet. this was a time when i went to a meeting in arviat. the meetings were a week long and i was one of those young people they invited. the whole meetings were all day long, trying to think of ways where we can incorporate inuit values and beliefs into the modern educational system in nunavut. they tried with good intentions. and these meetings were all theory or thought processed meetings and it got to be tiring.

on our last day, i talked to the wise elder from rankin and he invited me to his house when i pass through rankin on my way back to ottawa. so on my way back, i went and visited the elder and i invited a colleague to go along with me so we can talk to the elder. we arrived and went to the place of the elder.

when we entered his place, it wasn't very inuk of him. what i mean by that is that when you visit an elder they offer you tea and introduce you to their household. but the elder didn't do any of that and he very flatly told us to sit and led us to his dining table. we sat down and i could tell my colleague got nervous and it felt like he was going to lecture us and tell us what and what not to do. but that was not the case.

when we sat down, he said he is going to go get something and we waited and he came back. he had this traditional pouch made out of arctic char skin. it was ingenious, just the head cut off and the whole pouch was dried and inside this pouch were all traditional hand tools. hand drills, little saws, and so on, all used by inuit in the past before electric tools.

he started talking that he had made those tools for him and to tell people what their purposes were. and he talked about our meetings in arviat and how we wanted students to learn what it is to have values and beliefs and to use those values in our lives. the arviat meetings, like i said, were all theoretical and this elder realized something was missing and he wanted a message to bring to us.

he said: people think working with hands is a lower form of job and we try to teach students all about thinking and how to process thoughts and how to write about those thoughts. there is something missing in all of them. he pointed to his tools again and said: these, when you are working with them, your brain starts working in a different way. people think to work with tools is a menial job, but i am telling you, these are more theory than work. when you work with these, you think about your family, your reactions to people, your relationships with people, your relationship with the world. you think and think and in the end, without ever thinking you were thinking, you have thought about the world, your place in the world. in arviat we were trying to think of ways to teach students how to do these things, but we missed crucial point, we are thinking beings and it doesn't stop.

i was astounded. here this elder is, never read socrates, plato, rousseau, jung, engels, or that other german philosopher and he was beating them in their own game. and he achieved this by explaining that to work with hands is just as philosophical as thinking and we had missed this point in arviat. he suggested that we work with our hands a little more. as if trying not to think is more creative than trying to be a thinker. he wanted something real and he wanted to apply the real world to a superficial world.

after that, he became more "elderish" and offered us tea and introduced his household. he smiled and became very cordial.

that was more than five years ago and i remember the visit like it happened yesterday.

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