Friday, February 26, 2010

Learning to shut up

As part of my research for my WIP, today I was graced with two hours of stories from a very kind man. He hails from a different culture than I do, so sometimes the rules for conversation are different, as are the rules for listening to elders (which he is). I went in there with my respect in place and my listening ears on. Or so I thought.

At one point, deep in my notes and scribbling along, his comment was along the lines of "you know, sometimes elders don't allow people to take notes."

I put my pen down.

At another point, I said, sort of as a conversation-mover but also as a truth, "Oh, I know that." And he said "well, then what are you doing here?" I am sure I blushed bright red. He followed up that comment with, "If you want other elders to talk to you, don't say stuff like that, or they'll ask you the same question. Just be quiet and listen."

I nodded and stayed quiet.

Stories from other cultures fascinate me. But I need to make rock-solid sure I'm learning them in a culturally appropriate way--appropriate to *the culture*, not me. In this case: shut up. Don't write. Listen.

I was glad for the reminder that my way of understanding the world might actually be disrespectful. I need those lessons. Later this spring I have a big interview with a very respected, rather famous elder, and I really really really really really don't want to screw it up. Wearing duct tape would look stupid, so I'll imagine it--which will also be much less painful. I will probably want to take notes--desperately! But I will just listen.

Then the key part: I must REMEMBER.

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