Monday, April 22, 2013

Malama 'Aina

Malama 'aina is a value I learned in Hawai'i.  Translated, it could be, "Care of the Earth," but the concept might be a little different than what comes to mind with a cultural lens greased with the motifs of the "Environmentalist" movement as known to "Western" culture.   Before seeing the way Hawaiians teach and live this important value, I was a little torn--trying to reconcile two scenarios I had been presented with.  One I'll call the "Leave No Trace" movement, with it's aire of "We-care-about-the-Earth-and-you-don't," and it's own branch in our federal government, the EPA.  An extreme example of the attitude from when we visited Isle Royale in Lake Superior: hate graffiti on the walls of a outhouse about the spawn of the devil who would dare to build a rock cairn along the trail.  The other is a long-standing Alaskan way of life--that of living off of the land, using it to sustain you, harvesting the bounty and making use of the resources.  Of course, there have been regulations made and protections placed on the various species harvested, but many in big cities would still huff with horror at the cruelty done to halibut when bashed on the head in your boat or a deer slung over your back on its way to your freezer.

In Hawaii, an island with obviously finite resources, care of the land is crucial.  The islands were divided in a pie shape by territory--not with some being mountain people and others water people, but each division, "a'hapua'a," getting a slice of the mountainous interior, going down through the various ecosystems, and a spread of the shoreline.  The ancestral lands Hawaiians are permitted to keep in their family if they have 60% of the bloodline (which could be it's own debate) are not refered to as "land claims," but as "Kuleana lands" -- Kuleana means "responsibility," not indicating, "This ground is what I get," but,  "I have a responsibility to these lands."  Almost like, the land has a claim on me, it inherited me, instead of the other way around.  The kind of responsibility meant, could be summed up in a comment to me by a Hawaiian friend who described the way you can tell a true Hawaiian's property and one who is not really living the values.  She said, if you see a yard that is nice and taken care of--the plants are healthy, things are orderly, you can tell there is care put into it, this is what Hawaiians are taught to be like.  Yards full of junk, with shoes everywhere and things overgrown and sloppy, this is not really a Hawaiian. 

She also told me more about the idea of "ownership"--in our culture, she said, something is not "yours" because you bought it, it becomes "yours" when you take care of it.  It is your Kuleana.  This means you can't say a plant is yours, unless you water it, trim it, you know it, you care for it.  During my college years in Hawaii, I took a series of Hawaiian culture classes--one of which was called, "Malama 'aina."  For this class we met mostly at "Kahuaola"--a garden of Hawaiian plant species (so much of the islands are now overrun with invasive species) run by the Hawaiian Studies Department behind our campus.  In the garden, backed by an ancient "he'iau" or temple, we worked hard in the sun--watering the ti plants, pulling thorny hili hili grass--with roots so deep--out of the ground, cutting down, pulling out and burning hundreds of invasive haole koa trees, and working in the lo'i (taro patches) weeding and harvesting.  This place became an intimate part of us.  We cultivated the land, and the land cultivated us.  The value was lived; and I began to see what beauty exists in this relationship with the land.  This concept is probably known to most "farm kids," but I had never experienced this paritcular type of symbiotic interaction with the land in my non-agrarian climate.

I began to see how this principal related to so many "environmental" issues and wars.  I believe it can applied to almost all.  Let's take, for example, the forestry industry.  My grandpa was a Forester in Juneau.  His eyes still light up when he describes to us the different ways the species of trees react to forces and grow, giving examples from trees out the window, or explainaing how the forest was managed, then, by nurturing concepts that, with the help of humans, yeilded the healthiest and most productive forests.  It was a fine art.  I can tell when my grandpa talks that they knew the trees, cared about them, cared for them.  It was their Kuleana.  The thinking changed; forestry has all but gone by the wayside as people in Urban centers, with the power, believe that touching the natural world at all is a sin. 

I strongly believe that humans are not on the Earth by accident.  We are not a blight to it -- we have the power to be if we don't care for it, malama 'aina -- but we are MEANT to touch it, to be in it, to know it.  We should use the resources around us -- they are meant to sustain us, just like any other form of life on the planet.  Should we be allowed to cut down trees? YES, in moderation.  Hunt seals? That's a sensitive one... YES, in moderation.  Go into the wild parts of the world without having to ask permission? YES.  Those who hunt deer, or ducks, seals, or foxes, in the right attitude and for the right reasons are the ones who will know them best and care about them the most.  Not the city-dweller who saw a special on National Geographic or read an article about them, and then petitions to bar every soul from interacting with the species again or entering their domain, and they will never know what they don't know.  We have the ability to destroy -- some would say this means we should put up walls around the wild and protect it from ourselves.  But we also have the ability to make it even more fruitful.  Deep familiarity with and dependance on the natural world makes life beautiful, it cultivates us.  And it is our Kuleana, our responsibility, to cultivate and beautify the Earth.  And not by removing ourselves from it.

I say, Go! Build your rock cairns along the hilltops to guide yourself back home, leave your footprints in the forest! Get to intimately know this glorious world! That means being prepared to shoot a bear if you have to and recognize its part of the natural cycle!  Do things for the Earth and let it do things for you -- it's a sacred relationship. This is malama 'aina. Or you can close off the natural world, make it jungle to you, untouchable, while you banish youselves to the cities to live out your pitiful days in concrete and synthetics and in guilt of your very existance.  And there, go to the park to see trees, take your kids to the zoo to see the caged vestiges of the once-known savage world, while I take mine to visit the last trapper allowed and see more clearly that world, reflected in his eyes, the only one really shaped by it.

2007 - Kahuaola -- Working hard to clear an overrun lo'i kalo (Taro patch)


2008 - Kahuaola -- Same lo'i kalo, now fruitful




Monday, March 18, 2013

Everything a Shadow

My husband and I mourn together often the loss of the things of the past.  It seems glaringly evident that most things today are just a shadow of their former glory.  As it is with the hand-stitched upholstery covering the gathered eider down that cushions the carved hardwood rocker--the time and effort applied and value born in it--so it is with hand-stitched, gathered, carved people; they can now mostly be found only as antiques.  What has happened?  What has taken the life out of things so that genuine quality matters so little, and facades, the mere shadows of truly valuable things matters so much?  Is it part of the modern quest to level things out?  So that one has the ability for a dime to copy the styles of the rich?  So that every newly married couple can fill an apartment with fine furnishings from Walmart that attempt to copy the appearance of real quality, but can be thrown in the dumpster without much guilt upon each move?  But the rich, though still spending vastly more, seem to be groping for the aesthetic of the poor...  To me it doesn't matter much whether something signifies monetary wealth or whether monetary wealth is required to get it.  What matters is that the thing serves it purpose and serves it well, that it brings satisfaction to the user--whether through long familiarity or real value, and that in creating it (better than acquiring it) it helps form the man.  This is available to the rich and the poor, yet neither today seem to be generally seeking it.  There are signs, however, that some scattered here-and-there are now learning to appreciate what we have given up and seeking to re-attain it. 

Here are some examples of this "watering down," of losing, maybe forever, the genuine quality of things--

My dog musher husband, and the time I have spent around numerous dog sledding "kennels" with him, has taught me much about the characteristics and value of the various breeds used for mushing.  Canadian Inuit dogs and Greenlandic Sled dogs are some of the last dogs left that evolved for life and work as a sled dog.  Malamutes are closer than most to these old types, but have bred for so long for show, instead of work, that the breed is very different from what it used to be.  The dogs used widely for dog mushing in our country now are known as "Alaskan Huskies" and are such mutts that they are more hound than husky.  They have been breed over the generations for racing, for speed, and now even in the great races like the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest, these dogs must wear booties to protect the delicate pads of their feet and jackets often to shelter them from the cold--they are small with short hair and wirey limbs and though they cannot pull heavy loads except in great numbers, they must consume a vast amount of food.  The former breeds have coats such that they can bed down comfortably in 60 below.  Their food consumption is extremely efficient, as they had to go long periods in the Arctic regions without much to eat.  They are strong and can pull heavy frieght loads great distances.  Yet how many of these types are found on our continent today?  The number of owners of these dogs, except in very Northern parts of Canada, can be counted on one hand.

Having our Greenlandic Sled Dog pups around the kennel of Alaskan Huskies Keith was guiding tours with this winter caused people to be started at the observable difference.  One guest pointed at the old-school Greenlandic dogs and said, "Now these are Huskies," and then at the dogs on the Iditarod Race team, puzzled, in all seriousness, "What are these?"

Yesterday my mom was telling us about a book written recently, "Wheat Bellies," that decries the extreme change in wheat grown for consumption now around the world.  The author explains how the wheat of 50 years ago was vastly different from the wheat grown today--how due to the drive to produce more wheat faster, this crop has been adapted so that it holds very little nutritional value (even homemade whole wheat products do not escape this refinement).  In addition to not providing the nourishment it did to our great-grandparents, he claims the wheat of today is actually harmful to our bodies--having become such that our systems cannot process it correctly and is the main cause of the obesity, heart disease, and diabeties we see increasing in our country.  What makes these changes so hard to bear is that they are so pervasive, they are practically inescapable. 

Clothes bought today are meant to wear out more quickly than in the past.  The powers behind the change in the annual, monthly, weekly fashion trends drive the consumer to purchase media items to stay up-to-date and drive the market for the disposable synthetics and trinkets we drape ourselves with for a moment.  The quickly-constructed many-angled cheaply-covered houses we build for show today will, for the most part, not stand one quarter of the time the sturdy homes of the past stood and stand weathered by the storms of the years.

And people, these we mourn the most.  Like the Alaskan mutts watered down for speed only, more like pets now, people have become weak... like the houses, unable to weather the storms... like the wheat, having lost their substance... like the the clothes, disposable... like the journeys of today, instead of the epic voyages of discovery, scripted from purchased guide books.  Better suited to sit in office chairs and simplify judgements of their neighbors to self-promoting "power statements," the ability to play the part, easier now suits are three for the price of one at Joseph A. Bank.  All a facade.  All a shadow.  It seems that the driving forces in all of these changes come down to time and money.  I wonder what it would be like if there were a draft today, if, like in the past, the majority of young men ages 18 to 30 were called into service in another World War.  Would they have the character needed for this task?  What would that be like?  The way I imagine this, it would be a sad time in America and not just for the fact of war.  It already disheartens. 

But, then again, maybe the world is just following the course run in each of our mortal lives.  Like a baby, a glorious being filled with light, that comes, I believe, closer to God than we are ever able to maintain.  And then a child full of wonder and desire to learn, seeing the magic, living with passion.  It all fades away, it seems.  As we get older, as we "progress," that vision gets clouded, the magic all but disappears, the wonder fades; we are a shadow of the child we were, groping for the glory of those days.  Then toward death, sometimes, I think we capture it again.  Maybe that too will be the course of the world we know.

Maybe I am just romanticizing, but... I don't think so...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Guiding of a Life

You know those times when you feel like you are exactly where you are meant to be?  Like your heart, and then your feet, were led to some place in which, once followed and standing there, you feel a tingling warmth like Heaven smiles upon you and is pleased?  I heard a quote once, "Every tool you need for your journey you will be given along the way."  I agree with this statement; furthermore, I think that often the journey we are meant to be on is revealed to us when we are handed one of these tools and find we know what to do with it and it feels right to use it.

When I arrived at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, which had been my dream to attend from a young age, I had this sensation often.  In my classes, sometimes in Anthropology, sometimes in  Astronomy or English, or History, this feeling would come.  It would feel warm and exciting and fill me with joy.  Beyond a love of learning and being greatly interested in the subject matter at hand, I often got the strongest impression that I was exactly where I was meant to be doing exactly what I was meant to be doing and that the things I was learning would be have great significance in the life I was meant to live.  I felt like I was being handed the tools for my journey.

For whatever reason, I don't remember feeling that feeling much for quite some time--maybe I wandered off my path a bit over the last couple years.  Maybe I just haven't been as "in-tune" to it.  Whatever the reason, what joy filled my soul this week as this feeling came, at once subtle and immense, on more than one occasion.  I had followed my heart, I guess or, no, I had actually needed to use the bathroom (maybe sometimes one in the same...) and so stopped by the local library between other errands I was completing downtown.  I ran into a friend, an amazing woman--a true scholar--who I've been working with a bit on the Paths Across the Pacific conference she is putting on again this summer--inviting reputable and controversial anthropologists and scientists to our little hometown for a few days of lectures and forums on cross-ocean migration theories, one of my favorite topics.  She said she would be thrilled to have me come visit her in her office.

The next day I went.  We visited in her "tree house" office.  Ate wasabi nori and drank tea and chatted about books and anthropological adventures and controversies and publication and the open-mindedness and integrity that must be present with a genuine desire for discovery.  I got that feeling.  Then wondered why I keep getting that feeling when something I am doing is connected with anthropology and writing.  She told me something funny, she said, "Lately I have been surprising myself by doing courageous things. I don't know why, but I have been brave. It's fun!"  Sometimes, also, when others say things they stand out and you feel like the words were meant for you to hear, and not just by that person.  I left with a book and a glow. 

This same week another friend has been encouraging me to begin writing and helping me see a path to take to attain some of my goals.  Again, the feeling.  Walking on the "benchlands" road behind my house on a glorious morning, the feeling.  Randomly playing a Audio CD that was lent to my sister while I did some cleaning, which turned out to be about what?  Following feelings!  Again, the feeling!  I pray to be able to continue to be in-tune and to keep following those tugs, finding that joy, finding those tools, finding my journey.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Relativism and Absolute Truth


I see the world, as does everyone, through a lens that is the center of a vin-diagram of myriads of categorical sub-groups and cases.  My father once told me that two people, standing on the edge of the same forest, will choose entirely different ways to traverse it to a point on the other side.  Based on their respective vantage points, the two will need to mount different knolls, round different stumps, step over different roots, and cross different streams.  If one of the travelers should encounter wildlife of certain ferocious sorts they will change pace, alter direction, or curl into a ball with their fingers interlocked over the vital nerves and connections in the back of their necks.  Even if we all had the same goal, our life experiences, based on our individual reactions to the eventualities we encounter, would be quite different.  Some would believe this to be a case for relativism—the belief that everyone’s perspective and everyone’s reasoning is equally true.  In other words, a case for the non-existence of truth.  Those who say there is no absolute truth claim that everything in the universe is simply a matter of opinion.  Though we have different experiences in the forest, does this mean the trees do not really exist?

To deny that there is concrete truth—that some things are always and absolutely true—would leave me standing amongst those who cheat themselves out of their own existence and make the case that whatever they do with their life is of no consequence at all.  I pity them.  And while some are comfortable with that conclusion—that they don’t actually exist or that their existence doesn't actually matter—I could never be, for in doing so, I would offend my creator, who I also know, actually exists, and refuse to acknowledge the reality of the gift that is my life.

The problem with this is that everyone might feel that they are the keepers of this absolute truth.  What about when those absolute truths decided upon differ?  This is why perspectives are important.  Every single person’s perception of the world, based on their individual glimpses of realities along with imagined ones, we feel is truth.  Because we each act upon our assumptions, we should attempt to become familiar with other’s assumptions so that we may have effective and positive interactions—hence “cultural awareness” has an immensely important role.  We may believe this and at the same time know that truth still exists outside of one’s ideas.  This distinction must be made.  We refer to this person’s perception as “their truth.”  Does this make them unaccountable and untouchable to the actualities of the absolute truth?  No!  One who denies the existence of beavers might someday encounter one and be quite shocked.  Opinions only take us so far.

Many today feel, however, that all we have access to is opinion.  I disagree.  I believe there are ways of knowing things in this life.  And that one of the main reasons for our mortal existence is to grow through seeking and acquiring knowledge of the truth, which therefore, must be within our reach.  How then do each of us embark upon and continually fuel our quest for truth?  I would answer, with an exploration into the experiences of my life, the reasoning of my able mind, and sincere petitions for answers from divine sources--consider, if no one was listening, no one would answer, yet answers have come, again and again, to me and to men throughout the ages.  These things have led to my discovery of some basic truths, ever ongoing, and I invite you to embark on a similar life-long quest.  Your opinion might be that the truths I have discovered are merely opinions, and if that ends your quest, so be it.  No one can force knowing.

Readers might be thinking, "Oh, so what I think is opinion and what you think you know?"  My response to that would be, "I don't know.  What do you think?"  and then, "Have you been actively engaged in seeking answers to questions concerning what is really true?"  Do you think all experiences have equal value--that shopping online, texting pointless messages, video gaming, etc. will do as much to bring you understanding of enduring principals and real truths as observing nature, pondering things deeply, reading good books, discussing things of eternal significance and practicing and experimenting upon those things learned?  I don't.  
(I am not the prime example of always making the most of my time and recognize there is an immeasurably vast amount things yet to learn.  Every piece of wisdom I claim in this blog, I write mostly for my own benefit and reminder.  Please don't think I think I have it all figured out : )  If I thought that, it would be an end to learning.)

Socrates is famous for saying that the “unexamined life is not worth living.”  Though I halt at determining whose lives are worth living, and would think to say all lives are worth living, I like this statement.  I feel it is extremely important to determine some basic truths, to clear the lens with which we examine our lives so that the act of "examining our lives" is effective for coming to conclusions that will truly help us become better.  Our perceptions are not just something thrust upon us, but are chosen.  We should therefore begin this quest for truth so that we may chose the best lens through which to examine our lives. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Following the Curves


As I sat, a senior in high school, bent over the Tlinget carving I was working on as an apprentice to a master in the Northwest coast native art forms, tracing the smooth curves he had helped me transfer to my piece of spruce with the blade of my simple carving tool, deepening the grooves with angles and then scooping out curls of wood as I beveled in the depressions in my design, I thought of how the motion, when I caught the feeling of it and did it correctly, was so similar to dancing, and to driving, and to writing.  


I thought of dancing because it was something I had done since I was young, and though hard to describe, the feeling of holding the tool and applying just the right amount of pressure and using the grain and pushing into the wood and finding it do just what I wanted, a softness and compliance, a motion that made me feel as though the wood was expecting and wanting me to do just what I did, as I was doing it—this feeling was so different from when I got it wrong, from when I opposed the grain for a moment and there was discord and the wood and I did not listen to each other, resulting in a small chunk breaking out that I had not wanted.  

Sometimes when you dance—more often, if you are any good—you catch the groove, you find the grain in the music and it feels like there is no forcing, but without effort your body does what makes sense and it seems the music was expecting just what you did, as you were doing it.  There is a logic—not hard like math logic, but soft and fluid.  I was, then, just learning how to be a good driver.  Driving had not come naturally to me, and I had to learn to apply these same principals in that sphere.  As I drove home from these carving sessions, I would imagine I was carving the road with my car—following the curves that were so natural, anticipating what motions the road ahead expected. 


As mentioned, I thought too about writing—about the disconnect, the jagged edges that are created in writing, when the curves are not followed and, divergently, the way you encounter words scooping like water around a bend or a bevel through a piece of spruce when you allow them to.  It all takes a stepping back, a softening of focus while seeing beyond, a giving in.


In one of my anthropology classes, Cultures of Asia, I thought back to this idea again as we read a Japanese parable in which a man becomes a butcher, but is unsuccessful.  He tries so hard to carve the meat correctly—to make the perfect cuts, but the jagged, sloppy edges are offensive compared to the flawless cuts the other, more experienced butcher in town.  He finally asks the other butcher what it is that makes his meat so perfect.  The good butcher tells him that he doesn't make the cuts at all, that they are already in the meat—his job is to find the cuts that are already there.  When going with the natural grain of the meat, almost effortlessly, the knife blade glides through the seam and produces the cut of meat that was meant to be produced. 
 
In Taoism, the following of this principal is called Wu Wei—"doing nothing" or "non-striving."  In Christianity we refer to this as not "kicking against the pricks."  From California in the 80s, came the phrase, "Go with the flow."  This does not mean to be idle or lazy, but to find the natural creases and flow like water within them.  As you act, live, move in this way, you find something beautiful being created before you, opening before you, in a way that seems almost effortless and feels as if your very life expects your motions, as you move, as you live it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hypocrisy

Something which I understand is no uncommon state for humans, greatly troubles me at times.  Hypocrisy, defined by Dictionary.com as "a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess," seems to be rampant in political-social groups, as I see it.  This thought crept back into my mind and began irking me all over again the other day as I was flipping through the "Sundance" catalog that had just shown up at the house.  I was thinking about the people the products were designed for, the eyes that were meant to see and tastes meant to tingle with desire in response to the images.  The images sport middle-age, athletic, outdoorsy looking women clad in earthy tones and natural textures.  The jewelry is many variations of the hammered and worn, "ethnically-inspired" combinations of gems and metals meant to look like they were picked up at a flea market in ancient Tenochtitlan.  Then the eye searches for and finds the $857 price listing for the leather wrist band and the realization and quiet shock comes that enough people are comfortable with that to continue the trend.

Obviously there is nothing overtly evil in purchasing these products, or wearing them, yet my stomach knots up when I think of the message the wearing of these products are meant to send and the reality behind it.  In Hawaii, it would be said this schism of reality and portrayal is not pono--it is not balanced, not right.  Using our cultural markers--our symbols--these styles, textures, designs are meant to represent values that the wearer must have, at least obviously they wish to portray.  Those values might include simplicity in life, concern for and closeness with the Earth, an active interest in other cultures and peoples around the world.  The products are targeted for upper-middle-class folk who probably cavort in circles that shop primary at high-end health food stores and talk about the threat global warming at their fancy vegan dinner parties. 

Let's contrast this with an example from the other end of the spectrum of hypocrisy.  My husband's grandparents, KH and SH of the Teton Valley, are some of the least hypocritical people I know.  The values they claim, they live in every observable facet of their lives.  They do it quietly, out of conviction in and love for their principals, and not for show.  These are probably the most politically conservative people I have ever had the joy of knowing and this is how they live:  KH was a widely-loved and respected doctor, at one time, the only one in the entire valley.  He saw patients with ailments and accidents of a tremendous scope.  Often, when people couldn't pay, he traded them his services for bags of potatoes, paintings they had done, wheat, meat, or anything they did have.  They live in a simple, pleasant log cabin they began building in the 80s so their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren could stay there on visits.  They decided, however, to sell their house and live in the cabin full time as they preferred the peace, quiet, and simplicity it offered.  It was enough.

Grandpa, though 80 years old, chops all of his own firewood.  They heat with the wood stove, paper waste is separated and burned, and have a wonderful productive garden from which they get almost all of their vegetables.  They make wonders like blackberry jam, choke-cherry syrup, and grape juice--self-picked, canned, preserved goods fill their pantry and spill over to friends and family.  They eat nothing but homemade bread and delicious, hearty and healthy home-cooked meals.  They buy locally, for the quality, the things they cannot grow--like meats from butchers in the valley.  It seems that nothing is thrown out that can be used again, containers are always re-used for instance, and they frown when grandchildren or great-grandchildren throw away any food.  Though comfortable financially, I have noticed that they are completely content with the clothing they have had for many years.  Grandma wears a sweater with patches over the holes in the elbows.  I don't know if that would embarrass her, but to me, it summarizes the most beautiful things about her soul.  It is enough.  For Christmas, they ask that their children, etc. get them nothing, and instead make a donation to one of a few charities that helps orphans or other struggling people.  Throughout their marriage, they have accepted numerous vagrants-of-sort into their home as needed and have loved them and still talk about them as a part of the family.  Downtime at the ranch is spent reading enlightening literature, watching educational films, or having in-depth discussions about important topics.  They work, teach, love with their whole hearts.  They live what they are and claim to be nothing different.  These aspects of their lifestyle I mentioned are not, to them, part of a political agenda or an effort to appear "globally conscious" or "reduce their footprint" (I have nothing against these endeavors themselves, but with some applications of them).  They grew up in a world--unlike our disposable, commercial, counterfeit one--that did things because they were practical, they made sense, they were good for the body and soul, they required less and their profits--materially and otherwise--were more.  This is pono.  They are what they are.  They are the salt of the Earth.

It is my dream to emulate this second example and seek to never be deceived and fall prey to the follies of the first. 


Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Perfect Partnership

I love to dance and am currently helping to teach a Latin dance class at the Community Center in Sitka, where I live.  Yesterday I was thinking about how ballroom dancing, basically any style, is the perfect portrayal of an idea I believe so strongly in--the different, but equal roles of men and women.  To watch partners dance who fluidly work together as a team is a beautiful thing.  With the slight, gentle, but steady motions of the man's hand, or arm or positioning of the body the woman takes cue and, following his lead, moves in confidence and grace so the two seem to move as one.

 

Now, many would have a negative emotional response toward my suggestion that the woman should follow the man's lead.  Let's be logical for a moment--anyone who has worked on a team or been in any kind of partnership knows that one must lead for the team to be successful.  Decisions can/should be made together--with equal weight in it, but there still must be a spokesperson of sorts.  People who take issue with this notion probably haven't been part of very many successful teams.  In a dance partnership, when both partners attempt to be the leader the result is painful to watch.

Does it work just as well when the woman leads and the man follows?  Not so much.  Not only in Western cultures, but in cultures around the world, the men are the protectors.  They are physically built to be able to defend and provide physical sustenance for a family.  For this reason, males of  species wild and domesticated :) exude strength to catch the eye of a potential mate.  Woman are not hardwired to be attracted a man twirling around and acting too soft and... dainty.  Females, in most cultural dances around the globe, dance to exude grace and fluidity, confidence and poise to attract a mate, not control of the other and strength over him.  In other words, it is less appealing to watch.  Though physically and mentally capable of leading, a female attempting to lead in dance makes the man appear and feel weak--not a good mental state for a protector. 

In ballroom dance, almost all movements are designed to display the female--the male shows off his partner to the onlookers.  In the most successful marriages I have witnessed, it seems this arrangement is present.  The husband, proud of his wife, treats her with gentleness and respect.  He finds opportunity to give her a highlighted position--"put her on a pedestal."  So sweet are those moments when you see a man quietly give his wife the best seat and pull it out for her, ask and acknowledge her desires, sometimes, when appropriate, publicly honor her.  In the best marriages, I believe, the wife treats her husband with dignity, she "takes his arm"--literally and figuratively--she lets him guide her.

This, however, only stands so far as he treats her with meekness and love. Any man who is using harsh movements and "jerking" the female partner around is not a good dancer.  I avoid that type of partner as soon as they are identified, often through an unpleasant dance experience.  Onlookers can see this, even if unfamiliar with dance--something isn't right.  Only a man who leads with respect and in a loving way is suitable.  Any woman, or man, in an abusive relationship should find a new partner.  A dancer who acts timid and with low self-esteem does not draw a crowd.  A poised, confident dancer with head held high and smile bright makes those around fall in love with them.  Dancers be ware, if respect is not shown the partnership will never be successful or beautiful and your partner may just opt out of dancing again.

Because of women's experiences, perhaps, dancing with the wrong kind of partner or being the wrong kind of partner, it has become quite common for the idea to be rejected that men and woman have different roles, roles best suited to the gender of each.  As I follow one who leads with respect and honor for me, his partner, in dance and in marriage, I feel like the best version of myself--confident, graceful, beautiful, valued by him.  I am happy to be that flower on the branch he extends and I cherish my role as a woman.  The feeling of moving as one--and others can see it too--brings a joy beyond my ability to describe.  In my mind, this is the goal of marriage.  And no one, watching a successful dance partnership or successful marriage--think back to the times you have--would feel that the woman's role is any less or lower than the man's; if anything--it is the focus. 

A female's flourishes and twirls in dance--really the point of it all--would, in this analogy, be a woman's noble and important actions as a mother and the things she does to hold the family and household together.  In dance and in marriage, the man creates the frame wherein this is possible.  He holds her up and steadies her; he leads with a gentle touch.