An Idea, not An Ideal

At the end of “The Madness of King George,” the previously-waylayed monarch regains his sanity (albeit briefly in the historical context) to deliver the last few lines: “The king is himself again. We must try to be more of a family. There are model farms now, model villages, even model factories. Well, we must be a model family, for the nation to look to.”

There is a weight that comes with any kind of leadership, in this age, we conceptualize it as a liability under law. What do our leaders know (or don’t know) and when do they know (or when don’t they know it) and who is responsible?

One need only look at the slippery slopes that Donald Trump is currently, joyously, slipping downward into his invisible escape hatch to understand that leadership can be stained with the bile and grotesqueries of this age.

Indigenous children continued to be harvested and abused, queer people continued to be persecuted and killed, and all the while working class people in Canada, Australia, and other parts of the Commonwealth of Nations suffered during this past 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

Being under the crown was no guarantee of being treated with dignity or nobility for many, in fact the condition of being subjects of a monarch often mean that justice was elusive. Or mostly elusive until those nations made for independence of some sort and even then, the persecution then continued behind closed doors.

Yet under that crown are humans. Mostly, as is our wont in this postmodern age of academic-like deconstruction of empathy and kindness, we distance ourselves from the humans under that crown for the sake of our own sanity. We ask ourselves, “Are they divine?” “Are they human?” “Are they special?” “Are they dull?”

Yes, is the answer, to all of it.

So those royals align under that crown to protect themselves and we lionize and demonize them in the same breath, and we all forget their humanity and our own in the process. We become rabid purists craving something so radically different that we will say and do anything to those means. We think of them as a talentless and costly vestige of a dead empire and the inspiration for a nation of millions to look upward toward.

In Wolakota, we are taught to stay humble and to remember that we are common people, we are all relatives, no better, no worse. It was strange to see that the descendants of those first royalists saw us as monarchists as well. They called us the “aristocrats of the plains” but never understood that we shared power and deferred to those with the greatest character and even when they knew that fact, they still called us “noble.”

Even in this miscommunication between the languages of philosophy and politics, there may yet be some wisdom in what it takes to lead, even when the world demands a fall.

It is not enough to simply be against things a whole life long. It is exhausting and takes one to the depths of a soul and changes one to believe that just because one does not see hope, that there is no hope to be had. One must be for something to keep the world going, one must inspire the best in others. One must find a renewal within oneself to carry others in their hard times and one’s own.

There is a story of Maza Ponkeska that was both told to me and written down in some volume. “We were also called The Orphan Band because Iron Shell took in widows and orphans,” my mother would tell me. “One time, they were moving camp and they came up on this grandmother who had been left by a rock. He asked her why she was just sitting there and she told him, as she started crying, ‘I’m too old and can’t walk, I asked them to leave me behind.’ Iron Shell picked her up and put her on his horse and told her that she was his responsibility now and she wouldn’t ever have to worry.”

That is the family ethic I was born into and it’s the family ethic I try to encourage in my relatives as best I can, mostly by example. Ours is to provide if we can. If we can’t, we find others who can, that is what it is to be in the Aske Gluwipi Tiospaye.

As for me, I am a staunch loyalist to an idea. I will uphold an idea with everything I have until someone tells me to let it go. I question everything and everyone about whatever it is that I take up in this life to ensure it survives, that it wants to survive. This is the gift I have to offer my family and my family of friends, and I apply it in the service of some sense of justice or structure to keep our descendants going in their hard times. We speak our hopes for them into the winds they face down the path.

In my days, I’ve made a study of power and while I don’t fully comprehend its myriad, changing nature in its totality, I see its shape. My family reminds me of the power we have and the responsibility that comes with it and in that awareness, it’s hard to see others handle power so poorly.

To simply deny one’s power is lazy. We see it all the time in the white people who openly profess their shame and hatred for whiteness (not just supremacy, but for all aspects of whiteness) to the point where they feel justified in taking on another (non-white) culture to distance themselves from their whiteness. It is far more useful and inspiring to see our counterparts in their power exercise it wherever they can for the good.

As someone who has had negligible access to any kind of meaningful, permanent, or influential forms of power—being born male and using masculine gender for most of his life, even when it was the most disgusting thing I had to do—it sits sourly in my mouth when I see others deny their ability to work with the power they have.

Every other man who stays silent; every other Christian who shrugs and says, “I have to live with these people, so I don’t make waves”; or every other white person who believes the best thing they can do with their privilege is resign from it; they all disappoint so totally that one can taste the mediocrity and find oneself thirsting for any ounce of courage in the house.

What they who have power, and do not use it in any way, never learned about it is that it’s never an ideal time, it’s never an ideal situation, it’s never an ideal person, it’s never an ideal circumstance. One simply has to move in the faith of conviction that we will be supported when we ask for that support.

Monarchy is an ideal, much like the police state, slavery, capitalism, Christian hegemony, and nationalism, that isn’t just evil, they all deny us the ability to see the Other as human. We, the poor, see the royals as inhumane, the police see Black and Brown people as animals, Christians see unbelievers as devoid of the presence of god in need of saving and people of reason see people of faith as idiotic.

All of these systems plot together to swindle us of our greatest asset: love.

On the prairies of South Dakota, I grew up watching British comedies on Saturday night on South Dakota Public Broadcasting because it was the only thing to watch when the wind was up. I was introduced to Anglophilia. I know the stories they tell themselves about themselves. In my middle age, I love a good story and I appreciate the good ones they gave the world, but along with my decolonization comes a caring shelving of all that and a deep breath as I embrace new things.

May the god of the universe hold close those who loved her and give them comfort and may her sins be cause for her reconciliation with god. May we all seek for something new in uncertain times with courage.

May we divest, decolonize, live up to our ideas, not our ideals, and may we never forget to pray for one another.

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