The Oral Tradition


“Words hypnotize and deceive everyone at one time or another, but these hypnotic words cannot last long in the hearts of true warriors.” — Barney Bush, Shawnee

Icon The Oral Tradition
In Indigenous society wisdom and culture are handed down through stories. Not written stories, but those that are painstakingly memorized through years of repetition. A person who tells a story does not own the story, but rather the storyteller “carries” a story, as if the story has a life of its own independent of the storyteller. Therefore the storyteller holds a great responsibility to tell his or her stories accurately, not just in terms of the accuracy of words and details, but more so in terms of the wisdom and meaning conveyed. Each story has more to it than mere entertainment—it’s a piece of the heart of the people.

It is through the listening and experiencing of the stories that the listeners learn a style of communication that empowers a person to communicate with intention, thoughtfulness, and purpose. Words therefore, become much more important than the intellectual concepts they convey, rather the words hold energy and life. Respecting the importance of words and the energy with which they are conveyed is a powerful and respectful way of communicating.

As so much of what we do in business is about communication, this Indigenous principle has the most immediate applicability and is foundational to culture shift. Indigenous communication is a practice that over time enables us to slow down the way we talk, to speak in turns, and to come to understand the intentions behind the words that people convey. Equally as important is that it leads us to a way of communicating in which we can more powerfully connect with people through our words and the ways in which we convey them.

Excerpt from SHIFT: Indigenous Principles for Corporate Change:

“When spending time on North American Native American reservations one will notice that the pace of communication is very slow and deliberate, and if one is not careful they will talk over people, which typically results in conversations coming to an end. I have found that a great many Native Americans will just not argue, and if one attempts to argue with them, they’ll just sit and ponder your words and say nothing, or in some situations they will listen to your point of view and only after a long pause will say something so concise, resolute and contrary, that at least in my case, I’m left without anything further to say.”

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Learn About Glenn’s Book Shift

Shift: Indigenous Principles for Corporate Change


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