Low Man on the Totem Pole


2015 09Sept MustardSeed FeatureWe are probably all familiar with this old saying as conveying something of least importance, but let’s observe for a moment how many things are wrong with it. Aside from the misogyny and cultural insensitivity of the quote…at its foundation, it’s based on the underlying assumption that higher elevation equals higher power.

It would be quite presuming to suppose a singular native or Native American culture with a particular practice on these types of carvings; however, it is worth noting in our survey of the phrase that some cultures employing them believe totem poles tell a story, with the main character at the bottom (eye level). It is also practice of some groups for the best carving artist to work on the bottom for the same reason.

So, while many are the things wrong with the title statement, many also are the lessons to be learned here: It’s hard to get the detail work right when painting with a broad brush; words can have powerful and long-reaching effect (I somehow doubt the originator of the quote foresaw his statement would be dissected by a magazine editor and readers many years later); and, in life and vertical carvings, the order of things isn’t always what it seems. So what’s your pole position?

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last…and whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Matthew 20:16, 26


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