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Part Qallunaaq
Chapter 25. Tidy Squares vs. Inuit Thinking


I’ve often made gentle fun about how Qallunaat thought processes seem to operate in “tidy squares”.

Tidy squares say: “Pay your rent and bills, like clockwork, at the first of every month!” Inuit thought says: “Pay your rent and bills, but don’t develop hanging qaqsuq (lower lip) in dour anxiety if you don’t have the money on hand at the first of the month.” Tidy squares say: “Neuter your ancient hunting instincts, to respect polar bear and beluga whale quotas, set by the government.” Inuit thought says: “This is like trying to conquer the wind. But I’ll honestly try, in the interests of being a good and decent citizen.”

Tidy squares thinking tends to be pre-occupied with rules, regulations, rank, social status, and doing what you can to “get ahead”. In Inuit thinking, an individual attained stature among his/her peers by being useful to fellow Inuit, based on traditional teachings handed down from generation to generation. Each of these ways of thinking has its origin in lifestyle, culture, language and environment, and one is not necessarily superior, or inferior, to the other.

After finding my Scottish roots, I’ve sensed a subtle change within my own thought processes. They seem to be straying occasionally to the domain of those “tidy squares”. I sometimes detect myself detaching from what I’m hearing on the radio, even when the topic should interest me. I find myself thinking, “That’s not really important to Me!” It might take some work on my part not to get as arrogantly “civilized” as that!

Some Qallunaat, by the way, have had their “tidy squares” thought processes significantly altered by spending decades in the Arctic among Inuit. Such a thing is not necessarily bad. I’ve learned from different sources that my Scottish grandfather was fluent in Inuktitut. It must have affected the “tidy squares” thought processes he brought to the Arctic, to function in an environment once foreign to him. He must have returned home to Scotland somewhat changed by the experience.

This was nothing unusual for men who served in isolated Arctic posts in those years. In fact, evidence of shifted thought processes can be found even today among missionaries, policemen, teachers, and others who have chosen to live among the Inuit.

Previously in Inuit life, good role models existed in every household. Now that we’re nominally “civilized”, role models have become quite scarce, and have to be searched for. Perhaps we have to take stock of our thought processes, and “un-square” them where appropriate.


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