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3 Training for Handling Dilemmas: Inuit Adults´ Teasing of Children

3 Training for Handling Dilemmas: Inuit Adults´ Teasing of Children

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23



Sociocultural Cultivation of Positive Attitudes Toward Learning: Considering. . .



seen a lovelier and more perfect example than what

Briggs (1979a) reported. In reference to her report, I here

introduce some typical examples of teasing to consider its

characteristics.

Example 2: “You’re No Good!” #1 (Briggs 1979a, p. 33)

A dialogue between a father and his 2-year-old son

(a favorite):

Father:

Son:

Father:

Son:

Father:

Son:

Father:



(in a voice which imitates disgusted, hostile rejection) “You’re no good!”

(with angry snap) “You!” (i.e., it’s you who are no

good!)

(imitating son’s voice) “You!”

“You!”

“You!”

(same voice) “You’re no good!”

(voice of disgust) “You’re no good!”



. . .And so on until the son eventually begins to shout the

words angrily at his father, who finally laughs and says,

affectionately, “Ait!” and desists.



she does not like him; then, he says again, “Because you love

me!” Again she answers “A!” maliciously looking the other

way. Then he returns to his first call, “I love my Jasslin,” and

continues in just the same way again and again until she

loses her temper and begins to cry or goes away.

Example 4: “This Is the Last One—Eat It” #1 (Briggs

1979a, p. 27)

A mother and her 5-year-old son are in a boat, on their way

to a new campsite, where they will find a number of relatives

already gathered. The boat is in sight of the camp, but the

motor has stopped and the passengers are waiting for the

men to start it again. The 5-year-old is restless.

Mother:



Son:



Example 3: “You’re No Good!” #2 (Briggs 1979a,

pp. 33–34)

Between a visitor and a 3-year-old boy:

Visitor:

Boy:



Visitor:

Boy:

Visitor:

Boy:

Visitor:

Boy:

Visitor:

Boy:

Visitor:

Boy:

Visitor:

Boy:



(in friendly, questioning voice) “Are you good?”

(raises his brows affirmatively) (The fact that he

raises his brows silently, instead of saying “yes,”

means that he is uneasy, afraid, ilira.)

“You are? You’re good?”

(raises brows)

“Are you bad?”

(raises brows)

“You are? You’re bad?”

(raises brows)

“Are you loved?”

(raises brows and smiles shyly but happily)

“Oh, you are? Even though you’re no good?”

(raises brows)

“Is your brother loved?”

(raises brows)



. . .And so on. Eventually, the visitor tires of the game and

desists, or the boy runs out.

I have quite commonly encountered such teasing, in

which adults intentionally and repeatedly ask children offensive questions to annoy them. For example, whenever a

hunter sees his niece, he puts her through the following

catechism: He says, “I love my Jasslin,” and she answers

“A!” uncomfortably turning her face away from him because



273



(takes a candy bar out of her bag and hands it

to her son, saying in an exaggeratedly happyexcited-secret-persuasive voice) “Eat it up! Eat

it all alone! Eat it quickly; then the others won’t

have any; you will be the only one!”

(smiles happily and takes the candy. He takes half

of it and offers the other half to his mother, but

she is not looking at him now and doesn’t notice.

He holds it toward her for a few seconds, then

takes it back, takes a huge bite out of “her” half,

and offers the remaining morsel to her again. She

takes it and eats it, without comment)



Example 5: “This Is the Last One—Eat It” #2 (Briggs

1979a, pp. 27–28)

A mother and her 3-year-old daughter are visiting in a tent

where there are a number of other people. The 3-year-old’s

sister, aged 4, is outside, playing with other children.

Mother:



Daughter:

Mother:



(hands a candy to 3-year-old daughter and says

in exaggeratedly happy-excited-secret-persuasive voice) “Eat it quickly and don’t tell your

sister, because it’s the last one!”

(breaks the candy into two pieces, eats one, and

takes the other outdoors to her sister)

(says to the audience, with a pleased (and perhaps amused) smile) “She never keeps things

for herself; she always shares.”



I also often saw teasing in which children were forced to

decide whether to share their food with others.

Example 6: “Shall I Adopt You?” (Briggs 1979a,

pp. 31–32)

A visitor—usually, but not necessarily, a woman—who is

sitting beside the mother and baby on the sleeping platform



274



K. Omura



holds out her arms to the baby or lifts the edge of her parka

invitingly, as if preparing to carry him.



23.3.3 Some Characteristics of Inuit Adults’

Teasing of Children



Visitor:



What characterizes the Inuit adults’ teasing of children?3

My analyses show nine characteristics. First, the purpose is

not to abuse children but to play with them and lavish love

on them. The Inuit conception of affection, examined below,

is based on their desire to protect the physically and mentally

weak who lack reason. Consequently, children who become

embarrassed or lose their tempers arouse great affection

in adults. Indeed, the Inuit go so far as to say, “A hurt

child is more lovable” (Briggs 1978, p. 63, 1982, p. 117).

Thus, no matter how outsiders see it, such teasing is not

abusive but playful; adults are lavishing their affection on

children.

However, this is true only from the adults’ viewpoint. It

must be beyond children’s imaginations that adults intend

only to play with them. Indeed, they always take teasing

seriously: They are embarrassed because they cannot understand the reasons behind the teasing; they are seriously

scared and finally lose their tempers, crying or attacking

the adults. Clearly, from their serious expressions, this teasing is far from fun, but a bitter, stressful ordeal for children.

This is the second characteristic.

However, as they repeatedly experience teasing, children

gradually realize the true intentions because teasing always

occurs in a pleasant, affectionate atmosphere full of smiles.

Indeed, the children, regardless of how seriously they take

the teasing, eventually stop crying and smile shyly, implying

that they understand, at least, that they are not abused but

loved. They might even be aware that adults’ teasing

expresses affection. Moreover, as shown in Example 7,

while teasing children, adults restrain themselves from hurting them physically or psychologically and thus secure their

safety. This is the third characteristic of teasing. Predictably,

rare cases occur when adults fail to control themselves and a

situation that begins as fun turns into something serious.

In this case, the child is hurt and dislikes or even hates the

adult as a result. Then, the adult is criticized as childish

(nutarappaluktuq) and his/her judgment is questioned. Teasing requires good judgment, which is why children are

forbidden to tease each other.



Baby:



Mother:

Visitor:

Baby:

Mother:



(in a soft, tender, persuasive voice) “Will you

come home with me? I love you. Shall I adopt

you? You’ll sleep beside me, and we’ll cuddle

together on the sleeping platform. Just us two.

Would you like to sleep beside me? Let’s cuddle

together. Come. Shall I adopt you?”

(usually retreats, with a frightened face and

sometimes with cries of frightened, angry protest

to his mother)

(may hold out the baby again toward the visitor,

as if, herself, receptive to the idea of his adoption)

(repeats offer, invitingly, assuring the baby that

she loves him)

(retreats again in fear to mother)

(laughs and cuddles the baby)



I became part of this type of teasing almost every day

while staying at my Inuit mentor’s house. Adults quite often

scared children by saying, “Will you go along with your

Uncle Keiichi to Japan as his adoptee? So, you will learn

Japanese and make a big money as his translator.” I sometimes participate in this kind of teasing, saying, “I will adopt

you,” while holding my arms out to the child. Then, the child

becomes seriously frightened and tearfully clings to the

parents, whereupon the audience, including the teasers and

me, are moved to laughter, although the child is angry and

cries loudly.

Example 7: Ugiangu (Briggs 1979a, p. 32)

Mother:



(visiting in my tent, slapped the face of her

3-year-old son, hard) (I thought she was scolding

him because he was, in fact, being mischievous.)

Son:

(made a wordless cry of angry protest)

Mother: (followed her slap immediately with a sharp,

intense cry of affection) “Ait!”

Son:

(half-turned his angry cry into a laugh)

Mother: (pulled son into her lap upside down, that is, with

his head hanging down over her leg, put her hand

roughly into his mouth, and wrenched it open.

She accompanied all this with loud cries of affection) “Ait!”

Son:

(throughout was undecided whether to

cry-protest or to laugh. He did the first one and

then the other, each expression turning into the

other, back and forth)

This teasing, in which a child cannot judge whether

she/he is abused or treated with love, is also quite common.

In fact, the adult teaser consciously remembers to not hurt

the child.



3

The characteristics presented in this section are not the actual account

given by the Inuit. It is derived from my observation of Inuit’s

discourses, practices, and interactions with and attitude toward their

children. Although Briggs (1998, p. 8) describes how she has “been

increasingly plagued by the problem of what to call them,” all of my

Inuit mentors and friends commonly apply the term “teasing” in

English or uirihaiRuq (teasing) in Inuktitut (Inuit language) to this

type of interactions between adults and children. They also comment

that it is primarily for fun but consequently has the effect of educating

children.



23



Sociocultural Cultivation of Positive Attitudes Toward Learning: Considering. . .



Thus, children’s safety is secured during teasing, regardless of the severity of the words they are exposed to, as in

Example 1, or of the harshness of the interrogation they

endure, as in Examples 2 and 3. Importantly, the adults’

intention of teasing is always indicated in facial expressions

and in the voices of teasers and audiences, including

exaggerated expressions, warm voices, smiles, and comic

gestures. This is the fourth characteristic. Thus, children can

eventually realize from adults’ facial expressions and voices

that they are not being attacked or abused but are loved

and protected and thus feel safe, i.e., they pick up

intentional clues from the context. This is the case not only

in verbal teasing but also in somatic communication, as in

Example 7.

However, children must pick up the contextual clues by

themselves and determine adults’ intentions without any

help: The intention is never directly expressed but is shown

only indirectly in context, e.g., in facial expressions,

gestures, and tones of voice. This is the fifth characteristic.

In teasing, words are not to be interpreted literally. Rather,

latent meanings or messages have to be understood via clues

scattered in its context. Thus, teasing leads children to learn

that words have meanings beneath their surface meanings,

depending on the context. Children gradually perceive

through harsh teasing that they do not have to interpret

words literally but discover their actual intent by themselves,

with careful reference to the context.

Thus, if children perceive the teasers’ true intentions

behind their harsh words, they can readily understand that

the proper reaction is not to take the words seriously but to

treat them as a joke or to feign ignorance with a smile as if

nothing has happened. This is the sixth characteristic. The

adult teasers, so to speak, ask children to solve a riddle. The

correct solution is to interpret severe words as a joke and to

hold their tempers, reacting with a calm attitude and a smile.

Although it seems to be easy to react in that manner, children

have difficulty maintaining their equanimity because teasers

are persistent, as seen in Examples 1, 2, and 3. Even adults

have difficulty staying calm under such conditions, and for

children without enough experience to control their tempers,

it is worse.

Moreover, they have no option but to evade literal

questions instead of responding to them directly, given that

teasers make children face a dilemma: e.g., a dilemma of

sharing in Examples 1, 4, and 5; a dilemma of love and hate

in Examples 1, 2, 3, and 7; and a dilemma of identity in

Example 2, and 3. Children would find themselves in a

dilemma if they attempted to directly answer the questions

presented. The only way to resolve such a dilemma is to treat

it as a joke instead of taking it seriously. In this sense, as



275



Briggs (1978, p. 89) observed, Inuit adults’ teasing places

children in the type of dilemma that Bateson (1972) called a

“double bind.” This is the seventh characteristic of teasing.

Such dilemmas tend to be exaggerated in teasing, at least

in comparison with ordinary, everyday life, because adults

secure children’s safety. Exaggeration, a clue to speakers’

intentions, is the eighth characteristic. However, children

still have difficulty distancing themselves from the dilemma

and evading it even though they can easily understand, with

exaggeration as a clue, that the only way to resolve the

dilemma is to put themselves at a distance from it. This is

because children’s dilemmas are not logical like a koan

(paradox) in Zen, but are instead emotional: They are torn

between contradictory desires, e.g., “I don’t want to be

disliked by others; however, at the same time, I want to

monopolize food or my parents’ love.” Children find it

hard to consciously control their emotional desires; instead,

they are naively led by emotion and thus easily trapped by

such dilemmas.

However, Inuit children are rarely driven into an actual

“double bind” or left stuck in a dilemma because adult

teasers and audiences carefully watch over them and control

the course of events. In any case, whether children succeed

in breaking the deadlock or not, adult teasers and audiences

always demonstrate their love so that children eventually

feel the safety of adults’ affection. Nevertheless, adults

never directly show children whether they have reached

the correct solution to the dilemma posed by the teasing.

The children can only know indirectly, according to hearsay

after the event or by future experience. If a child reaches the

correct solution, someone’s praise or the cessation of teasing

might demonstrate it. In contrast, displeased silence from

adults and continued teasing, even about a failure, might

indirectly demonstrate an incorrect choice. Children continue to be the target of teasing until they succeed in reaching

the correct solution. This is the ninth and last characteristic

of teasing.

In short, teasing can be considered a training device.

Its mechanism is summarized as follows: First, a safe field

for training is established as play or a joke, framed with

various markers, such as gestures, tones of voice, and facial

expressions. In this adult-secured safety zone, children are

presented and led to resolve emotionally laden dilemmas by

themselves. These simulate real dilemmas in everyday life,

but are greatly exaggerated. Then, children must not naively

follow their emotional desires, lose their tempers, or become

angry or cry but patiently address the dilemma, scrutinize the

context, see through to the meta-message (a game of affection and love), and react properly (by treating the dilemma as

a joke, with a calm attitude and a smile). Thus, the teasing’s



276



K. Omura



aim is to impart lessons in the art of patience, in how to look

at a situation objectively and calmly, and in how to sharpen

their powers of observation—all essential skills for resolving

a dilemma.4



23.4



The Learning Process in Inuit Society:

Teasing as Logical Consequence

of Sociocultural System



How, then, does adults’ teasing function as a training device

for Inuit children? In this section, I situate teasing in its

sociocultural background, focusing on the ideal Inuit personality and children’s learning process.



23.4.1 Real Inuit (Inunmariik): Ideal Personality

in Inuit Society

As Brody (1975) and Briggs (1968, 1970) demonstrated,

“real Inuit” (Inunmariik) is pursued as an ideal in Inuit

society. According to Briggs (1968, 1970), “real Inuit”

implies a mature adult having both reason (ihuma-) and

affection (naglik-).

Affection involves qualities or emotions expressed with a

series of words based on the stem naglik- and “a standard of

moral behaviour which serves as a major criterion of human

goodness” (Briggs 1968, p. 17). Affection is concern for

others’ physical or emotional welfare, specifically, not

monopolizing food nor exclusively occupying a warm shelter but sharing generously not just resources and food

but also joys and sorrows and willingly helping anyone in

trouble. Affection is based on the compelling desire to protect the physically and mentally weak. This quality’s importance can be gathered from the fact that “thank you!”

(qujanaqutit!) means “You are generous!” in Inuktitut, the

Inuit language. Emotions showing a lack of affection include

mental depression, social withdrawal, and hostile feelings

toward others, such as hatred and jealousy. In this sense,

affection includes good sense in social intercourse, i.e., the

ability to open oneself to others.

In contrast, reason involves qualities expressed with a

series of words based on the stem ihuma- and the “intellectual faculty to be sine qua non of socialisation and of adult

competence” (Briggs 1968, p. 42). An ideal person, regarded



4

This mechanism of teasing has something to do with “revitalization

movements” composed of “cognitive dissonance” and “mazeway

resynthesis” in culture change, discussed by Wallace (e.g., 1970,

2003). I would like to further consider the role of adults’ teasing of

children in the process of sociocultural change and reproduction in Inuit

society. I owe this idea for my future research project to the comment

from Professor Barry S. Hewlett.



as having reason, is an autonomous decision-maker

who maintains equanimity in the face of difficulties and

frustrations, both social and physical, and voluntarily

conforms to approved modes of social behavior (Briggs

1968, 1970). This ideal person has a high regard for his or

her own autonomy and for others’ autonomy; the person has

a realistic, pragmatic view of the environment without any

preconceived ideas.

While affection is regarded as an innate, universal quality, reason is believed to develop gradually as children

mature into adulthood. Thus, babies and children are considered not to have sufficient reason to control their desires and

emotions. Thus, they cannot act in the socially appropriate

manner by respecting others’ autonomy, willingly helping

others in trouble, or generously sharing food. Instead, they

want to monopolize everything. In addition to lacking these

mature qualities they are, of course, economically and

socially dependent on their parents.

Thus, babies and children are seen as mentally and

socially weak and are to be protected and looked after in

everything. Any display of weakness, injudiciousness, or

vulnerability arouses adults’ strong, affectionate feelings of

protection. Thus, adults frequently tease children. They

desperately desire to lavish affection on children, who

become embarrassed or lose their tempers because of teasing. Adults’ affectionate feelings toward vulnerable, injudicious children are so strong that they cannot leave them for a

single moment (Briggs 1968, 1970). Indeed, they go so far as

to say: “I love them [my children] too much. When I am

away on trips, hunting or trading, I miss them. I sleep badly.

When K [my child] is away at [boarding] school I miss her; it

makes me feel uncomfortable. People don’t like to feel

uncomfortable. If one doesn’t love too much it is good”

(Briggs 1968, p. 14).

Importantly, however, openly expressing affection

toward teenagers and young adults is considered to be

patronizing, like treating them as babies or children and

not respecting their autonomy. Thus, adults tend to avoid

demonstrating their affection toward, to say nothing of teasing, teenagers and young adults. This includes their spouses,

to show respect for their autonomy. Moreover, adults avoid

directly instructing, teaching, ordering, or forcing them to do

anything because that would be disrespectful of or even

damaging to their autonomy as independent adults with

mature reason. Anyone doing so is considered to have

slighted others.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that the Inuit never

express affection toward teenagers and other adults. They

must willingly extend a helping hand to others in trouble,

collaborating and sharing everything with them. If they

prioritize respecting others’ autonomy so that they fail to

help them, they might be judged as antisocial. As previously

mentioned, however, adults moderate their expression of



23



Sociocultural Cultivation of Positive Attitudes Toward Learning: Considering. . .



277



affection toward other adults so as not to damage others’

autonomy. Therefore, to perform in a socially proper manner, adults must carefully balance two conflicting needs: the

need to express their affection toward others and the need to

demonstrate their faculties of reason in respecting others’

autonomy. To mature into a real Inuit is to learn the exquisite art of properly achieving a balance between the essential

but conflicting qualities of affection and reason.

This balance has the following logical consequences:

(1) Inuit adults are encouraged to internalize “the spirit of

approaching difficulties both seriously and playfully” as a

proper, mature attitude and (2) they are virtually forbidden

from teaching teenagers and young adults directly by giving

verbal instructions. In the following sections, I examine

these consequences one at a time.



relaxed, joked around, and laughed as they repaired the

engine as if nothing serious was happening. This attitude is

also reflected in the following song reported by Franz Boas

(1927, p. 300):



23.4.2 The Spirit of Approaching Difficulties

Both Seriously and Playfully: A Highly

Valued Attitude in Inuit Society



Moreover, Briggs reported the following incident in

which a middle-aged Inuit laughed aloud in front of his

burning tent:



When I asked an elder what qualities are highly respected as

wise and intelligent, his answer could be summarized as

follows: A wise person always keeps his or her mind in a

state of peace without having any hostile feelings toward

others and is willing to make fun of herself/himself to make

others laugh and feel happy. Clearly, this elder intended to

provide me an example of a real Inuit, who has both affection and reason.

However, this is only an ideal to be pursued. Because the

Inuit are only human, they seldom achieve their ideal. Like

the rest of us, they are easily obsessed by hostile feelings

toward others, such as hatred and envy, and are frequently in

such dark moods that they withdraw. It is not rare for the

Inuit to be upset by unexpected difficulties or their own

failures in hunting, fishing, trapping, and trading trips. Moreover, that such an ideal is so eagerly pursued ironically

indicates their inclination to hold hostile feelings, to withdraw into their shells, and to lose their presence of mind in

the face of difficulties and frustrations.

Thus, the Inuit highly value laughing at themselves and

laughing away difficult conditions. For example, one of

my older colleagues in arctic anthropological fieldwork

provided the following anecdote. When the boat my colleague rode drifted on the night sea because of engine

trouble, the hunter driving it and his family relaxed, joked,

and laughed while waiting for rescue, leaving my panicked

colleague to cry for help. They even laughed at his agitation.

Most probably, the hunter was also uneasy but tried to

keep calm, accept, and cope with the difficult situation by

laughing at it. I have also often experienced similar

situations, although only during the daytime in summer. In

those cases, the people in the stranded boat are always



An Eskimo youth was carried away in the fall on the drifting ice.

After a few days he succeeded in reaching land. During these

days of danger and privation he composed a song in which he

mocked his own misfortunes and the hardships he had endured,

a song which appealed to the fancy of the people and which soon

became popular in all the villages.

Aya, I am joyful; this is good!

Aya, There is nothing but ice around me, that is good!

Aya, I am joyful; this is good!

My country is nothing but slush, that is good!

Aya, I am joyful; this is good!

Aya, when, indeed, will this end? this is good!

I am tired of watching and waking, this is good!



Once I saw a man doubled up with laughter on the occasion of

his tent burning, and when I foolishly asked why he was

laughing, the answer was: ‘What else could he do but laugh?’

In addition, if one demonstrates through laughter that one is not

resentful or angry and, therefore, need not be feared, then people

might feel like helping to repair the damage” (Briggs 1991,

p. 277).



Laughing when one is in a difficult situation, just like

breathing deeply, is effective in calming oneself enough to

accept and cope with the situation, giving oneself the distance to objectify the situation instead of being upset. Moreover, as Briggs stated in the preceding quotation, such

laughter demonstrates to others that one does not bear malice

and has others’ pleasure and welfare in mind—that is, one

is a well-socialized, safe person. Thus, Inuit adults try to

share jokes with each other for fun. The purpose of such

jokes can be discerned from the following example,

although caricatured and exaggerated because it targeted

me, a stranger hardly to be judged as child or adult on

account of my strange behaviors.

Example 8: A Joke About Money

This is a joking game, which an Inuit elder and I (Keiichi)

play almost every day before his relatives in the living room

of his house, where I was staying. The game follows the

same scenario every day.

Elder:



Keiichi:



(suddenly lifting up his eyes from a bill, such as a

phone bill, a gasoline bill, or a bill for house rent,

and addressing me sitting next to him at a dining

table): “Hey, Keiichi, give me money or pay it for

me!”

“I have no money at all.”



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