December 2008 Archives

More Than Talk

Early results/responses from individuals taking the course, Introduction to Ethical Issues on Indian Reservations, are coming in and they continue to prove our hypothesis.  (A hypothesis is a statement that is assumed to be true for the sake of argument). Not only are these individuals aware of unethical issues in the reservation workforce and political atmosphere, but they would like to see "someone" do something about them.  Several of them complimented "yours truly" on my efforts to address the subject.

Now that these individuals have taken the course, they will be faced with a dilemma of "knowing more they want to know."  Let me explain... years ago, while in the Marine Corp, I underwent a six weeks in-house treatment for alcoholism.  Although I eventually returned to drinking, a counselor made a statement that "haunted" me until the day I quit drinking for good.  He said something to the effect, "you can no longer return to drinking after you leave here without the knowledge that you are an alcoholic."  He went on to say, "every time you pick up a can of beer, a shot of whiskey, or any other alcoholic drink, you will do so with the knowledge that it will eventually hurt you, your family, and people close to you."  He finished with, "for some of you, this knowledge will eventually lead you to stop drinking."

The counselor was right.  My knowledge of alcoholism and the harm it caused me and my family led me to honestly examine my own drinking behavior.  However, I needed to do more than think about my drinking problem.  I needed to take action.  I eventually did take the huge step to decide to quit drinking.  A decision I would not have made without my knowledge of alcoholism.

Now that the participants of the Intro course officially have the knowledge of what is unethical workplace behavior and the harm it can do to the reservation, they cannot use ignorance, or the "everyone is doing it" phrase, as an excuse for doing nothing.

The next step for them to take is to honestly examine their own ethics.  Once they examine their ethics, they need to take action to change them.  Because you cannot change your values just by thinking about them, you need to take action.   There are a lot of terms to describe "not taking action" to improve your character: intellectualization, rumination, and procrastination.  However, I would call it hypocrisy (the false claim to or pretence of having admirable principles, beliefs, or feelings).

There are many self-help books out there that outline specific strategies to improve a person's character.  In my opinion, most of them are too long, a couple of hundred pages, and/or too complicated to be effective.  What I recommend for you to do if you truly want to improve your character is to apply the four values: courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity to all aspects of your life.

Nearly twenty years ago, when I was the Academic Dean at our tribal college, multi-cultural training was the big thing.  We North Dakota tribal college personnel met with educators from across the state to discuss this training to determine how to implement it.  After attending several such meetings, one thing became abundantly clear, the older a person was, the least positive effect multi-cultural training (or the idea of multi-cultural training) appeared to have on that person.  I became so exasperated at one meeting, I said something to the effect; "this training should not be wasted on anyone over 40.  Those of us who are over 40 probably will never change our view or attitude toward people of a different ethnic group, no matter what kind or how much multi-cultural training we receive.  Therefore, let us focus this training on younger people, people whose prejudices have not yet become so imbedded in their nature that they cannot change."

My exasperation with older non-Indian North Dakotans led me to exhibiting a little of my own prejudices.  I began to classify non-Indian North Dakotans into four categories:

The first category was Immigrants.  These individuals probably have come directly from Europe and the majority of them have been extremely prejudiced towards Indians.

The second category, I called First Generation Immigrants.  These individuals have learned and practiced the prejudices of their parents, although some of them have begun to view Indians in a more positive light.  

The third category, I called the Second Generation Immigrants.  These individuals are around my age and the majority of them either have managed to suppress their prejudice or disagree with their parents' view of Indians.  

The fourth category, I called the Third Generation Immigrants (and so on).  They have been born long enough after their immigrant ancestors that their ancestors' prejudices have not reached down through the ages to them.  Many of them have Indian friends and have inter-racial relationships. It is these young people that will move state and tribal relations to a new level.

[Side note:  Individuals from the first, and second generations who have learned their ancestors' prejudices and readily hold on to prejudices toward Native Americans are usually the most ardent supporters of the Fighting Sioux mascot and hypercritically, say it honors the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota people.]

Unfortunately, it wasn't until the death of my son that I realized my prejudice towards non-Indians was wrong.  The intense grief they (non-Indians) suffered over the death of my son, and the kindness they showed me in the days following the death of my son made me realize my generalization of them was just wrong.

What will it take for Joe, the tribal worker (our fictional ethics violator), to realize he is an unethical person and change his ways?  Once he realize his work habits are are doing irreparable harm to the Reservation (not to mentions his reputation as well) will he change them?  

Will Joe, the tribal worker, change his ways if he enrolls and completes the ethics courses in the Tribal Leaders Institute?  I think he will.  Joe, like the rest of us, knows the difference between right and wrong.  He may have had the wrong role model, he may have been slowly seduced into unethical behavior over the years, he may have succumbed to his greed, or stupidly but what ever the reason for his corrupt character I am convinced once he takes my courses he will change.  Why?  Because Joe is not truly evil at heart.  The five Tribal Leaders Institute courses will open his eyes and allow him to see how other people view him, and he will be ashamed of himself.  He will come to understand how his unethical acts hurts not only other tribal members, but him and his own family as well.  His self-honesty, which he has suppressed for so long, will cause him to take a long and honest look at himself, and he will change.

Of course, there will be a very small chance Joe will not change.  If that is the case, than he will continue to lie to himself about his character.  Whether he is a staff manager, supervisor or tribal council member, Joe might suppress feelings of guilt and shame every time he lies on his time card, comes to work late, takes two hour lunches, or steals from the tribe, and he will continue to abuse his authority - even after taking my course.

For the sake of our reservation, for our elderly and our children's sake, let us hope that will not be the case.

Maslow's Hierarchy and Change

When discussing the social conditions on the reservation with my brother Mark years ago, he explained why change on reservations is so hard to come by.  He said something to the effect, when people have their basic needs met; food, shelter, a little cash to play bingo or to go shopping with, they will not care what politicians do.  He pointed out how much better the living conditions on the reservation were at that time as opposed to when we were children.  Now this is contrary to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which proposes when one need is met, the person naturally wants to move up to the next level. 

Maslow's Hierarchy

Level One/Need One is Survival.  The first level or need, is a desire to get those basic needs met that a person needs for survival.  They include such things as food and water.  Once these basic needs are met, people strive to reach Level Two or Need Two, which is security.

Level Two/Need Two is Security.  Having a job, a spouse, and family can satisfy this need.  In children, this need is met by establishing a daily routine.  This, in turn, gives the children a sense of stability and security in their lives. 

Level Three/Need Three is Belonging.  Friends, a significant other, children, and pride in the community help meet this need.

Level Four/Need Four is (Self) Esteem.  In a nutshell, this is the need to gain the respect and admiration of others, which in turn leads to respecting one's self and to feelings of worth and confidence. 

Level Five/Need Five is Self-Actualization.  This need is difficult to explain and even more difficult to meet.  Some psychologists say this need can never be satisfied.  Simply put, at this level, people feel the need to make the most of their abilities and to strive to be the best they can.  Maslow wrote this about self-actualizing people:

  • They embrace the facts and realities of the world (including themselves) rather than denying or avoiding them.
  • They are spontaneous in their ideas and actions.
  • They are creative.
  • They are interested in solving problems; this often includes the problems of others.  Solving these problems is often a key focus in their lives.
  • They feel closeness to other people, and generally appreciate life.
  • They have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority.
  • They have discernment and are able to view all things in an objective manner.

"In short, self-actualization is reaching one's fullest potential" (retrieved from the internet on December 5, 2008,

Back to my discussion with my brother ...  In spite of the interest and encouragement I received regarding the Tribal Leaders Institute (TLI), I am beginning to realize how difficult it is going to be to change unethical workplace behavior.  This realization reminded me of the discussion I had with Mark so many years ago.  Boy, if he was right, I thought, I have my work cut out for me.  Then I remembered Maslow's hierarchy and how it conflicts with Mark's view.  Puzzled, I asked Dr De Mars what she thought about the conflicting views.  "They are both right," she said.  She went on to explain why.  The gist of her explanation was increased knowledge leads to a change in attitude, which leads to a change in behavior. 

After thinking about what Dr. De Mars said, I understood how "they" both could be right.  Tribal members who are at Maslow's Level One and Two cannot aspire to go to Levels Three, Four, and Five without gaining some knowledge.  This is where the TLI comes in.  The goal of the TLI is to raise awareness of unethical actions of participants and other tribal members, and motive them to do something about it.  I am confident once tribal members take my courses they will see the need to change.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2008 is the previous archive.

January 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.