I stand at the bedroom window. Five deer graze between the south side of the house and the neighbor’s fence. The distance between the house and the fence is maybe ten feet – hardly a meadow. For the most part, they are rooting around at the base of the wild roses. I can’t imagine what they find to eat there.
But one deer is as interested in me as I am interested in her. I look out; the deer looks in. Our eyes lock. What is she thinking? Her eyes seem to search my soul. She watches me for maybe ten minutes… daring me to break my gaze? Judging my character? Finding my soul lacking?
I remember my sister speculating at my father’s funeral in Cimarron, New Mexico. It was mid-day. A strange time for a lone deer to stand in the open… watching us… seemingly with intent. My sister wondered if (and was comforted by the thought that) Daddy’s soul had by-passed Purgatory and flown straight to the deer.
Thinking of the deer, my thoughts ricochet to Frank Waters’ most famous book, The Man Who Killed the Deer. I have my mother’s dog-eared copy here at home. I remember enjoying it… in the ’60s, I guess – long before I taught on the Navajo and White River Apache reservations. I need to read it again. I remember it as one long meditation… a prose poem. I remember that the main character is caught between the Pueblo Indian culture and the 20th century white man’s world. Martiniano has killed a deer out of season in the National Forest. The white man’s government is not amused.
I pick up the book and open it at random. Martiniano is before the Council. “A Council meeting is one-half talk and one-half silence. The silence has more weight, more meanings, more intonations than the talk.”
The discussion centers on the killing of the deer. “All these things and shadows of things ensnared like flies in the web of silence. They fluttered their wings. They shook and distorted the whole vast web. But they did not break free. For it was the web which binds us each to the other, and all to the life of which we are an inseparable part.” Lovely.
My mind jumps to the Quaker Way, and the value of silence. Perhaps an entire hour is spent in silence. Perhaps after a period of silence, a member speaks. When someone speaks, protocol dictates that silence is observed for a period of reflection. Time passes before anyone else speaks aloud. Silence does not come naturally to me. But I understand the concept.
Congress would do well to do as I did and spend six weeks studying the Quaker Way. Who knows… with more silence in the Halls of Congress, members could move forward – away from debate and towards deliberation. And I reference The Public Conversations Project:
Debate assumes that there is a right answer and you have it. Deliberation assumes that many people have pieces of the answer and together they can craft a new solution. Debate participants attempt to prove the other side wrong. Deliberative participants work together toward a common understanding.
Debate sees people defending assumptions as truth. Deliberation calls for re-evaluating assumptions. Debate sees people searching for flaws in others’ positions. Deliberation has participants searching for strength and value in others’ positions.