Last year Peggy Hanson, who works in employee relations at Friendsview Retirement Community, asked if I could fashion for her a “talking stick.” As part Cherokee and a tribal member, she knew of this Native American practice, and that I fashioned assorted wooden things, like talking sticks, clocks, mottoes and stumps. Along with other native peoples, during a powwow, traditionally, a Cherokee chief would give the stick in turn to persons who would speak to an issue. When one held the stick others kept quiet and listened. A stick was often carved artistically, or enhanced by an eagle feather secured by leather thong or fur strip.
So I made a talking stick for her – sans adornments. Others warmed to this symbol, so I crafted a few, then some more – several dozen, actually. Eagle feathers are banned from trade, and I don’t raise rabbits, so I just select ordinary small branches, debris from trees or driftwood.
These I clean, smooth, and accent their features; then I add highlighting coats of urethane finish to bring out the beauty of ordinary objects turned into civility symbols.
Elementary teachers and youth workers find these talking sticks useful for helping children and youth discuss topics in an orderly, respectful, way.
The stick provides tactile reinforcement – it feels good to the hand. Holding it calms the mind, enabling a person to voice words better. It might also be dubbed “a listening stick” for it helps students to hear attentively what others say. The talking stick signifies a transfer of privilege and accountability. Participants also observe beauty in what otherwise might be deemed a drab and valueless thing – just a broken stick. Will this device help folks be more thoughtful in what they say, and will they more readily discern beauty in ordinary things? In ordinary persons? Perhaps. Can this simple gimmick help a group follow Paul’s admonition that things should be done “decently and in order?” (1 Cor. 14: 40) Perhaps. Persons who use these sticks will let us know.
On Google I learned that this practice, in some form, has been a feature in other traditions, including Asian. It names a Minnesota literary journal and a California coffee shop. The Indian Affairs Committee of Baltimore Yearly Meeting uses the talking stick at annual meetings. It’s congenial to our intervals of silence to enhance godly order, and signal respect for those who, in the unction of the Lord, give voice to truth. Truth is surely the goal of every thoughtful Christian discussion, with or without talking sticks or other icons.
Peace and Joy!
P.S. Do you want a talking stick? If so, stop by, or get one at Yearly Meeting time. No charge.