Circular Mentality vs. Linear Mentality

You have noticed that everything an Indian does in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it..

Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.

The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.. “

Black Elk
Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux 1863-1950

This is the first and foremost Mexica Telpochcalli teaching. The Circle is a shape that is found repeatedly throughout the natural world. The Circle represents: wholeness, balance, unity, equality, abundance, and strength. It is a symbol which reminds us that true power is being aligned with nature, Creation, and the values thereof.

Being in a circle allows us to acknowledge and experience each other as equals. In a circle everyone can clearly see each other. No one is above, below, in front of, or in back of. Compare that to the line. In a line there is a front, back, first, last, up, and down. People cannot see each other without some struggle. While this is a physical example of how the Circular value compares to the Linear, it should also be understood in a conceptual, non-material way.

In the Circle everyone and everything is equal in importance and value. All life is respected for it’s unique gifts. Everything has a purpose and a place, is Connected to and Interdependent on each other’s existence.

Everyone and everything has its unique purpose, strengths and gifts. Our gifts should be acknowledged and honored but we should not make the mistake of thinking we are superior to the next relative. We also have our “weaknesses”, or the things that we are are not so skilled at. This should not be mistaken as being deficient, Different is not Deficient.

A good example of Circular Values in action is the Aztec Calendar. Even though some may mistakenly infer it, no one animal sign or symbol is superior to the other. They all play a necessary role in maintaining the structure of the circle. The Oceletotl (Jaguar) is just as valuable and necessary to the strength of the whole as is the Tochtli (Rabbit.)

These qualities can help identify and align one with Circular – Indigenous Values.

  • Humbleness: honor and respect that your greatness and uniqueness is still dependent on other humans, cultures, races, animals, earth/elemental forces, and  cosmic relatives.
  • Open-Mindedness: knowing that you do not know and cannot now everything
  • Balance / Non- Excessive
  • Politeness
  • Equality/Appreciation : Acknowledging your gifts and appreciating the role and gifts of all in the circle of life. A consciousness that all life is connected and interrelated. What affects one will affect all.
  •  Understanding that what you put out will returns;  Energy comes full circle, etc/


Linear Mentality

Linear vs Circular Values

In today’s dominant society certain people and things are mistakenly considered to be better than others. If you can imagine a vertical list with the top position being “better” or the bottom position being “not good”.

  • A person with lots of money (at the top) would be considered to be better than a person with low-income (at the bottom.)
  • A person who went to college would be considered better than a person who has had minimal schooling.
  • A person who wears the most colorful feathers and does the more acrobatic moves would be considered a better ceremonial dancer than someone with less colorful feathers and simpler moves.
  • A person who has a PHD in a subject is considered to have more authority on a subject than one who does not possess that degree.

These are just some brief examples. I’m sure you can think of many more  examples of how we have being domesticated or conditioned to place people and things in a  linear worldview.

What happens with the Linear Mentality/worldview is that one who perceives themselves to be on the “bottom,” strives to be “on top.” This behavior initiates and promotes an unhealthy competition and lack of respect toward others. Everyone is trying to  one-up another. Trying to be better than, more correct than, more knowledgeable than, more spiritual than, etc.

These qualities can help identify a linear mentality:

  • Arrogance
  • Closed-mindedness; Thinking you know everything
  • Excessive / Extravagant
  • Always finding the need to “be right”
  • Ignorance: thinking one’s actions do not affect others
  • Superiority Attitude: regarding oneself  or one’s Culture, Thinking, or Race superior to another.

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Circular Mentality vs. Linear/Western Thinking

A reminder that this list is just a guide juxtaposing qualities to help you grasp the essence of the Circular/Indigenous Mentality. It should be taken in context, not as dogma or “commandments.”

CIRCULAR/ Indigenous LINEAR/ Western
Everyone/thing is connected: Humans, animals, elements, plant life, cosmos etc. Separate :
lack understanding that all life is connected and interdependent
Circular Worldview: no hierarchy, all are positioned equally and have unique gifts and responsibilities Hierarchy Worldview: is always put below or above, considered less or greater than another person or thing
Community is the foremost value (“We”) Individualism is the foremost value. (“I”)
Community defined as all life:
humans, landscape, elements, animals, etc
Community (if even considered) is only defined as human
Live in Harmony with Nature Nature is to be Conquered
Karmic/Full Circle Understanding:
Knowing what we do , whether good or bad, will come back to us.
Karmic Ignorance: thinking one does not affect anything else or that one can evade payment for irresponsible behavior
Nature/Life Based Profit/Business Based
Practical/Pragmatic Theoretical
Science based on material and Spiritual factors. Science based only on Material factors.
Intuitive Logical/Rational
Relative Absolute
Present (“Now”) Oriented Future/Past oriented (non-present)
Creator-God is both Male and Female God is Male Centric
Creator is everywhere and in everything Creator is a man in the sky
Personal Relationship to Creator Relationship to Creator can only be mediated by a priest
Listening Skills emphasized Communication Skills emphasized
Modesty/Humbleness Ego Centric/ Self Attention
Give and share Take and keep
Word is bonding agreement Agreements need to be in writing
Cooperate Compete
Acknowledgement Judgmental