Characters: Avoiding Group Think

Last week when my family visited the Smoky Mountains, we went to The Museum of the Cherokee Indian.  One area focused on the various perspectives on plans for the Cherokee of leave their ancestral lands on go to Oklahoma.  The part that may surprise some people is that there were Cherokee speaking for removal, against removal until forced, and pro-combat.  There was no one voice.  They were not thinking en mass.

Throughout the museum it was emphasized that there was not one Cherokee response to the idea of sharing their stories, acculturation, moving, or whatever else they faced as a people. There wasn’t even on perspective within a family.  Nanyehi, or Nancy Ward, was a Beloved Woman who spoke against war.  Her  cousin, Tai-ya-gansi-Ni or Dragging Canoe was a respected war chief who wanted to join with the British in fighting colonists.

This isn’t meant to be a history lesson but I do hope that it shows you how complicated people are.  So often when we speak or write about a group of people, be they real or fictional, we tend to write about them as if everyone agrees on a variety of key issues.

I understand why this is tempting because reality is sloppy and hard to describe for a young reader.  But people don’t all agree even on key issues.  One person’s attitudes and ideas may even change over time.  It’s funny that when we speak about individual characters, we talk about growth and change.  But when we speak about a people we want things to be more clear cut.

Yes, some of the displays at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian were a bit confusing but that wasn’t their fault.  I didn’t have a strong enough base of knowledge to file away all of the information that I was reading.  Whoever created these exhibits did not talk down to museum patrons.  That’s something to keep in mind as we create our own characters and societies.