by Todd Walker
The notion that one can begin anything at all from scratch, free from the past, or unindebted to others, could not conceivably be more wrong. ~ Karl Popper
Pride often raises its ugly head, and, in doing so, becomes an easy target. I’ve not met many folks immune to this affliction. Ironically, these rare individuals could easily toot their own horn but don’t… which is exactly why they are a dying bred in the outdoor self-reliance community.
One of these rare men, Steve Watts, departed this world way too soon. I’ll never forget his comment on the hands-free ax sling I made after reading the article he and David Wescott wrote for American Frontiersman. I had credited him and David with the idea. Without hesitation, Steve quickly corrected me and told me the idea wasn’t original to them and cited their source.
That, my friends, is the way it’s done!
Tim Smith of Jack Mountain Bushcraft wrote a blog in July of this year and quoted his friend’s wisdom, “noisy rivers never run deep.” Addressing the depth of knowledge and experience of promoted “experts”, Tim makes a compelling case for carefully choosing who we get our information from. A lot of info being taught today is loud and shallow… and regurgitated dangerously.
If we are reluctant to rationally criticize this troubling trend, then we are partly responsible for our community’s decline. This is not a rant. It’s more of a self-assessment and an “if the boot fits, wear it” thing. I’ll admit that I’ve worn that boot before and suffered blisters. My purpose here is to not belittle but to highlight our need for integrity, authenticity, and crediting sources.
Humility is the prerequisite for learning. It is more important to learn than to cling to egos.
My friend Chris Noble (who has challenged more than one of my past articles – thankfully), outlined the 3 stages of knowledge for us here…
The danger of staying in the second stage (Arrogance) is we know the absolute best way of Doing the Stuff. We stop listening. We stop learning. At this stage, contempt towards others who are “Doing the Stuff” differently surfaces… viciously at times by gurus and their fans. If we buy into pet theories or petty arrogance, our skills and knowledge will continue to cycle from Arrogance back to Ignorance which puts wisdom (Enlightenment) out of reach.
It’s necessary to admit that our present skills are inadequate for all situations. That’s the easy part for those new to this stuff. The trouble comes when we develop a level of proficiency in a skill. Our human-ness tends to inflate our ego with only partial knowledge of the subject. In stage 2, we are unteachable.
Here’s an example of being teachable…
I just returned from our Georgia Bushcraft Fall campout. We had two full days of instruction in a wide variety of skills from falconry to debris shelter construction. One of our instructors, Stephan Fowler of Fowler Blades, a top-shelf blade-smith, can beat a piece of steel into submission like no other. He makes his living with fire. However, he had never created fire with primitive methods.
No one person has enough time and resources to develop expertise in every skill. Stephan walks over to our impromptu friction fire circle, craved his first bow and drill set from scratch, and proceeded to make his first primal fire by friction.
I, on the other hand, have never hammered a piece of steel into a functional blade. I’m at stage 1 – Ignorance. I know just enough to be dangerous in my experience. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being in stage 1 in any skill. Again, we can’t master every skill.
In my experience online, and, to a lesser degree, in real-life, there is an alarming number of folks content to stay in stage 2. Here’s a quick remedy. Spend face-time with folks learning and sharing skills. We can’t boast behind the internet curtain when our buddies are watching in real-time. Accountability is good for all involved.
I had the pleasure of finally meeting my online friend, James Gibson, at our recent Georgia Bushcraft campout. He drove down with Ex Umbra who taught several classes. Both of these men are the real deal. James wasn’t scheduled to teach but I learned a lot from him by just hanging out and talking. The hallmark of a great teacher is not that he/she has all the answers, but in how they make you interested in finding answers they may not have.
The last class of the weekend was Stalking and Wilderness Movement taught by Ex Umbra. One gold nugget he shared dealt with “hard skills” verses “soft skills.” One may possess all the hard survival skills (shelter, fire, water, navigation, etc., etc.), but we overlook our soft skills – which he covered well in class.
In the context of un-indebtedness, our community needs to give serious attention to the soft skills (internal/behavioral) of integrity, authenticity, and crediting original sources of knowledge.
You may not be familiar with some of the top people in the field of survival, bushcraft, outdoor self-reliance. This is not because they don’t have expertise in their craft, they just never reached celebrity status on a TV show or the prerequisite social media status to be taken seriously. The thing is… they don’t seem to be too concerned with our modern standard of success. Enlightenment will do that for you.
I am forever indebted to master teachers and novice practitioners alike for exposing the infinity of my ignorance.
Below are a few of my trusted Georgia resources I am personally indebted to on my journey of self-reliance:
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
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