Mayans and Me – Listening for the Unstated

I had the opportunity to spend about 4 days in the Ulpan Valley of Northern Guatemala learning so much from the Mayan Qechi’ people. As group of us were attempting to secure sanitary water for the 7000 people living in the remote valley from landowners who had others needs and uses for the water.

As a part of this process, I had opportunity to watch the men/leaders of the different villages discuss the future the people and responsibilities to each other in light of the need for clean water. It was aboriginal communication in its purest form. While the others obviously respected the eldest representative of the men, it was an very web-like experience. They talked and listened to each other. Perhaps saying the same things over and over (I say perhaps because I don’t speak Qechi was depending on the the translators observations). I was incredibly impressed with the patience of those listened to the stories of each individual without pushing their agenda. Yet, I became bored and frustrated because I am an American who would love to get it done and move forward.

Finally, it seems the eldest would then summarize the collective wisdom of the group. In fact, he seemed unwilling to move forward without all of the others agreement on any topic.

I don’t want to romanticize the process at all. The conversations were circular. Decisions made slowly. One person could hijack the process. But I also learned a lot about patience and respect – the younger waiting on the older – building community will instead of agenda.

What did I take away:
1) Listen for the unstated (Hear what others are struggling to articulate)

2) Respect the process (All societies have ways of comminicating. We need to respect them. This is especially important for a Texan who gets frustrated with “Nashville Nice”)

3) Community identity may need to supercede individual success in some cases.

This experience changed my view of leadership. More later.


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