The quote below is from Language and Art in the Navajo Universe by anthropologist Gary Witherspoon—who was a teacher of mine—published in 1977. This passage made me think of some of the fretting—and mockery—in the press about Occupy and its political/decision-making process and unusual way of using language: the "mic check," the repetitions, etc.
Navajos believe that each person should have the right to speak and act as he pleases, so long as his intentions are not malevolent or his actions harmful to others. Desirable and ethical behavior on the part of others is hoped for and even expected, but it is never demanded or required. Coercion and control are always deplored in interpersonal and intra-group relations. Downs described this attitude as a belief in the "inviolability of the individual."
... In intra-group relations no individual, regardless of position or status, has the right to impose his will on the group. Likewise, the group does not have the right to impose its will on the individual. Unanimity is the only acceptable basis of collective action. Although a system of majority rule has been imposed on the Navajos for half a century, the extent to which the principle of unanimity continues to pervade almost all social and political deliberations is amazing. In searching for a key to the Navajo social system, Shepardson and Hammond came upon the phrase bila, "it's up to him," which is heard so frequently among the Navajo...
The reluctance to avoid even the slightest appearance of attempting to speak for or control the actions of others is also significantly marked or expressed in Navajo grammar and linguistic behavior. A Navajo never addresses another person by name or speaks the name of another person when he is present... Beyond this practice of not using names in address, there is a separate person (called the Navajo fourth person by Hale and others) in the conjugations of all verbs which is primarily used in reference to states and actions of people who are in the presence or within hearing distance of the speaker.
The Navajo fourth person is also used when speaking about something in the hypothetical sense. It has an impersonal, indirect, and nonspecific connotation, and thus is politely used when talking about someone in the presence of the speaker. The impersonality and indirectness of this fourth person permits the speaker to avoid any appearance or implication that he is trying to speak for or control the actions of another person.
Imagine English with a fourth-person pronoun. Me, you, it, and... ?