Making life better in disadvantaged communities - our thoughts on everything - from Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc.
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To summarize our earlier discussion of learned helplessness....
Learned helplessness is the belief that your actions won't have any effect on outcomes so, in short, why bother.
Erich had suggested that many people give in to a victim mentality. He said that yes, Native Americans have been on the short-end in a lot of ways for a hundred years, having to depend on the BIA or others, but that is no excuse now for people not to make an effort to better their lives and those of their families. He credited his mother with always encouraging him to make something of himself and points to the accomplishments of himself and his sister as evidence that family is important in overcoming learned helplessness.
Both Willie and Erich suggested that 'learned helplessness' is sometimes just a scam for getting people to do things for you that you can do for yourself or avoiding consequences of your own actions. Erich gave the example of people who gamble away all their money and then expect the tribe to pay their light bill.
Bree suggested there are changes with the generations and that people her age have seen a lot more outside of their own reservation and are not willing to settle for things being the way they have always been.
That is a summary and I know you all said it way better than that. If you would be willing to take the time to post here again, I would REALLY appreciate it.
Eighteen years ago when I was appointed academic dean 15 of our tribal college, I quickly noticed what I know today at learned helplessness exhibited by many students. This was such a problem at college that I wrote a short paper that I called “The Power of the Individual”. Because it was 15 years ago, I do not remember the paper word-for-word, but I remember the purpose of the paper; which was to point out the difference between being victimized and moving on and having a victim mentality. My paper pointed out that there is not argument that Native Americans have been victimized throughout the history of this country. However, that doesn’t mean we (Native Americans) should have a victim mentality as I thought many students did back than. What is the difference, one of the students had asked me? This led to my paper in which I pointed that a student who has a victim mentality will react this way when they encounter a “racist” professor. He/she will “show the professor” and the school by dropping out. On the other hand, a student who did not have a victim mentality will react to the same situation this way. He/she will “show the professor” by not only staying in class, but by getting the best possible grade. This is what the title, Power of the Individual, meant.
Although I agree with Bree when she say “As for myself and others my age, I believe Native Americans finally realized that if we want to be successful and have cars and decent homes we have to step up and take charge.” I think it is important for the people from her generation to understand why they are different from their parents so that can pass their “success” on down to their children.
Bree’s mother, who is my sister left the reservation at a very early age because of the extreme poverty. I did not leave the reservation but that did not stop me for acquiring a doctorate in education. Why did Bree’s mother and me break the cycle of poverty? I attribute our success to our mother. Our mother always encouraged us to “make some of yourself” and she had the highest opinion of our ability. She constantly told me (and others) how smart I was. When your mom tells you something repeatedly, you usually believe it.
It is up to young people like Bree to pass her ambition down to her children, our grand children. By doing so, the teaching that started with my mother will continue to effect her descendants in a way that each generation will be more successful then the previous one.
You are right learned helplessness is rampant on the Indian Reservations, at least on my reservation. However, I wonder if the definition of learned helplessness, the belief that an individual's efforts will make no difference on the outcome, fits all the case of learned helplessness on reservations.
Many scholars, especially Native American scholars claim that learned helplessness started when the US government put us (Native Americans) on reservations. We could no longer hunt, fish, and in some case grow crops. As a result, we depended on Indian Agents, who were in charged of the distribution of rations, for our survival. As generation after generation of NA depended first, on Indian agents, later the Bureau of Indian Affairs, for their survival, learned helplessness was passed down from generation to generation.
As conditions on reservation improved many of Native American no longer rely on the US government to meet their basis needs, instead they rely on their own tribal governments. This is where leaned helplessness takes many different forms. I believe that learned helplessness on my reservation has evolved from it true meaning, which a person actually believes nothing they will do will make any difference, to where “learned helplessness” is used as a strategy for a person’s benefit.
One kind of learned helplessness is to play dumb. By playing dumb, a person will get another person, whether it’s a family member or a tribal member who is employed to help them out. I often hear these individuals say, I didn’t know today was the deadline to _______. So an exception will be made on what every the person “forgot”.
Another kind of learned helplessness is patience. If a person is patience long enough sooner or later, someone will help them. One example may be a person will not pay their light so their lights will be shut off. By “patiently” waiting, not making any attempt to raised money to turn their lights on, or actually obtaining money but spending it on something they believe sooner or later some will step in and help them out.
Another example is persistence, which is closely related to patience. By persistently informing people of their inability to take care of themselves they are counting on someone, sooner or later, to step in and help them out. I can’t work because of ________ and there is noting to eat and my lights are going to be shut off.
I could go on, but I will wait for other to see what they think about learned helplessness on Indian Reservations.
From my personal experiences in working with people with disabilities I have witnessed many times these individuals will use their disability as a way of getting something or a service. For instance, I have worked with individuals who come into the Voc. Rehab. Project and claim that they have limited writing abilities. But, in fact after letting them fill out the application and work on the computer, I find that they can do certain things and there is a different attitude by this person. My point is that I try to give them room to try new things and assist when I think they truly cannot do what is asked of them. I often ask them about what they feel they cannot do and they respond by saying, "I have always gotten help with papers, etc. Not for one moment thinking that they can do it, they just need the opportunity to try it. There is some reluctance for individuals with disabilities. Much to do with many of them have been conditioned to respond the way they do.
Last edited by Willie (2007-08-22 09:08:40)
From my experiences in workig with people of all backgrounds, in particular those with special needs. I have witnessed many individuals who would often have someone else do something that they are capable of doing. Many of them just need support and encouragement. Many of these individuals are also taught how to dppend upon others. From dealing with the BIA, Tribal governement, etc. These individuals have always had things done for them and they feel that they cannot do things for themselves. Just as they feel that under a TREATY agreement they are entitled to free HEALTH, EDUCATION AND WELFARE. And that is all they they believe. You cannot change their way of thinking.
Learned helplessness has been passed down from generation to generation regardless of whether you are white, native am., black, etc. This is why we have governments. They tell us how to live and if we do, we are rewarded in different ways. As long as enablers are there it will be there.
Learned helplessness is a bad habit, especially on the reservation. Many people take it for granted that someone (relatives, friends, Tribal Council, etc.) will always be there to help solve problems. Bad habits are hard to change and so are learned helplessness behaviors (consitently asking for help or money, negative thinking). When the Tribal Council refuses to help, people become upset and violent even to the point of threatening Tribal Council members which happened here recently on the Spirit Lake Nation.
It is my opinion that for many people they were helped along all thier life so that when they
grow up as adults they cant function as far as paying rent gas lights ect.
Some people believe that they are entitled to certain benifits and thats all they do is wait for money like GA . They are content just living from month to month on this income. I guess they think thats good enough.
In reflection on the topic of "learned helplessness", many people exhibit this characteristic that is learned from parents as their first teachers, family members, teachers and society. As a person, a native person who may feel pitiful (o'she'ka/lakota, povertee/mitchif or gidishaw zi/hitdatsa) can overcome this this feeling or attitude by exercising "self-empowerment" strategies. We can practice cognitive behavior strategies; we tell ourselves to "try" to do the best we can. Of course we find ourselves in stituations where we feel incompetent, or unable, or stupid. We should recognize that we all have our limitations, yet we all have strengths, we need to focus on what "we can do" and not on what we can't do. Another strategy is find someone that may help support you in an area where one struggles, find a mentor to help you build on this weakness, turn it into a strength. We need to listen to ourselves and stop the negative self talk and so like that old story about the train we heard in childhood, continue to tell ourselves, "I think I can, I think I can". The most important place and always the first thing that I do when struggling with difficulty and trying to overcome helplessness is to ask the creator for help, offer that gift, and pray for good things. We will always have barriers in our lives, things that overwhelm us, but in my life experiences I've leaned upon the the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can't change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference! Recall seeing the video done recently by Al Gore on global warming called, "An Inconvient Truth", there was a scene where a frog was place in boiling water and immediately jumped out, but if the frog was set in the water, then gradually the water boiled, the frog remained. He became acclimated to the change and died. Our ancestors had great courage, and I feel that it takes great courage to dig deep within, and great respect to those that gone on before, those yet to come, to try to do all we can in this life to help others in a good way, in doing so, we also help our selves. Migwetch, pilamaya, sigits, thank you.
At all of the colleges where I have taught, including tribal colleges, I have encountered students who, I think, use 'learned helplessness' as a form of manipulation. I have also seen this in the work place. Someone says, "I don't know how to write an article for a journal." "I don't know where to get the numbers for that report." "I don't know how to use that software."
So, they get out of the work because they don't know how to do it. No one can blame you for not doing something you don't know how to do. I used to be one of those people who would say, "It's no big deal, let me show you." Of course, in the process, I would be doing the person's report or budget for them. Eventually it dawned on me that, if I was around the same institution long enough, these same people were coming back to me next year and the year after that. They did not want me to teach them. They wanted me to do it FOR them. Once I would catch on, they would go to the next sucker and start the cycle all over again.
I see this in employment, too, both tribal and non-tribal organizations. There are people who have plenty of time to run errands during work hours, take days off and why? Because they "don't know how to do an intake", they "aren't as good as you at presenting in a meeting" and so on. Meanwhile, the people who do know their jobs are at work all day doing all those things.
Now, if I am working with or teaching someone who is new, I am more than happy to help. However, if you have been in your job over five years and don't know how to do a budget, or you are a senior in college and don't know how to type a research paper on the computer, I think to myself, "Well, why DON'T you know how to do that? Who was stopping you from learning how to do it all these years? And yes, it IS your fault that you don't know it!"
AnnMaria (who is in an unsympathetic mood this morning)
Acting helpless, such as not doing anything for yourself. Waiting for others to do it for you. Not believing in yourself. Not wanting to become anything.
We think an example of learned helplessness is when a person with a disablilty uses that for an excuse not to pay their bills but they can go and spend it on other bad habits while expecting somebody else to pay their monthly rent or utility bills because of the fact that they think no one will help them learn how to pay their bills themselves and because they think that it doesn't matter what they do.
I think Learned Helplessness is when a person has had someone do everything for them most of their young lives because of a disability they may have and now as an adult they don't know how to do for themselves.
Could you provide more information on cognitive behavior strategies, and is there any related information about native inspiration.
I feell that learned helplessness is best dealt with by not limiting the individual to routine activities. The person must be ablee to explore as many avenues of advancement as possible.
I think this learned helpness is a negetive thing on our reservation. I will use my neice as an example when she applied for a job and said there is no sense to apply for this job because i will never get this job anyway.
Learned helplessness definitely seems like something I have seen many times and I don't live on a reservation. Plenty of people are just enabled to do nothing - whether it is by "well-meaning" parents, teachers, bosses, etc. There needs to be leader in the community who strays people away from this type of behavior. If it's seen as "cool" to get your life together, then people will do it.