Posts Tagged ‘wisdom’

My mind has taken a turn towards Alaska today, and what our geographic location contributes towards making us culturally unique. I think living here requires a certain amount of humor and fortitude, both of which combine for some useful nuggets of wisdom.

I’d like to start this post with a few of my own nuggets of wisdom, and then encourage any readers, Alaskan or otherwise, to add their own so that we can create a thread of Alaskan knowledge here.

Note, the wonderful thing about folk wisdom, by my definition, is that it was learned the hard way.

I’ll confess to learning some of the below the hard way, but not all.

  • Don’t eat the yellow snow. (Enough said.)
  • When riding as a passenger on a dog sled, keep your mouth shut.
  • Don’t pee into the wind.
  • Don’t dive for anchors.
  • Always keep a sleeping bag in the car, you never know when you might break down.
  • When in Chitina, always clip the tails on your king and reds before you string them.
  • When in Chitina, always fill out your harvest card before leaving the rock you were perched on.
  • Don’t buy a cheap tent.
  • No matter how bad your voice may be, always sing when picking berries. In fact, it is a little know fact that the best singers are always the first to be eaten by bears. So sing, but do it poorly.
  • Shaggy manes don’t grow on horses.
  • Highbush cranberries aren’t really cranberries.
  • When hunting, never kill anything more than a mile from your vehicle, boat, etc.
  • Don’t try to drive across the tundra to rectify ignoring the above. Story
  • Don’t crash the riverboat with your in-laws on board, if you like them. If you don’t, go for it.
  • Don’t set your glasses on top of the car to glass for wildlife. (Especially when they are prescription glasses, I still haven’t had the nerve to ask my wife if I can replace them. Again.)
  • When swarmed by mosquitoes, don’t breathe deeply.
  • Don’t play in the cow’s parsnip before lying out in the sun.
  • Don’t eat the mussels until someone else has, and survived.
  • Off bug repellent, when used liberally enough, doubles as fingernail polish remover. (Who knows, it might give your children that genetic defect that proves to be an advantage someday.)
  • Don’t stash goods next to the trail and expect to remember them, or even find them, later on. (True outcome yet to be determined.)
  • Cold porches work well as freezers from October to March, and refrigerators in September and April. Longer, if the weather holds out.
  • That fishy smell never really goes away.
  • When visiting a village, and somebody offers you smoked salmon, don’t eat the whole jar or bag. The plane ride home can be awfully long.
  • Driving upstream against flowing water is more difficult than driving downstream. Better yet, don’t drive in the stream at all, despite how much fun your 7-year old is having.
  • When the oil industry starts running advertisements, more than they normally do, watch your back and check into your legislator’s bank account balance.
  • Never mistake and orange construction cone for a caribou, you will never hear the end of it.
  • Never take hunting advice from a fellow hunter, particularly if they are hunting the same thing at the same time.

I could go on, but I’ll give others the chance add their points of wisdom.

Potential contributors, I’ll keep your identity secret if your wisdom is embarrassing.


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I presented this at our church a summer or two ago, as part of a presentation on wisdom. Several congregation members got up and spoke, each giving their own views on wisdom. This was my take, and hasn’t changed much to this date, a little over two years later.

First off, I’d like to begin by saying I’m not presenting this material today due to any abundance of wisdom on my part. In fact, I missed my opportunity to exhibit a real piece of wisdom when I agreed to speak this morning. Now the opportunity for a peaceful Sunday morning has been exchanged for a stomach full of butterflies.

When today’s topic first came up and Janie asked if I would introduce the topic and then follow up with my own thoughts on wisdom, I thought, “OK, this will be easy. Pull a few definitions of wisdom up, read them, introduction done.”

So I went to the contemporary source of knowledge and wisdom, the internet, and typed “wisdom” into Google. 187,000,000 links came up. Perhaps I needed to schedule a little more time for research.

Alright, time for a refined search. So I tried Wikipedia- where the internet itself goes for knowledge and wisdom. Once again, multiple definitions, each which could be considered wise in its own right.

Ultimately, I found that definitions of wisdom are very much like religion, where you can choose your own flavor. Or perhaps try them all, mix them, match them. In keeping with our UU principles, it appears wisdom flows from many sources and can be found in the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

With that, everything from this point can be considered my own view of wisdom. As I researched definitions it became clear to me there is no way for me to present an overview of wisdom without making it my own, as the very act of choosing what merited presentation would violate my objectiveness.

Wisdom, I would argue, comes in many shapes and sizes. Can a 5 year old be wise? Can an 80 year old be anything but? I believe I’ve witnessed wisdom in my 3 and 7 year olds. I’ve looked for it in my dad’s mother, and been sadly disappointed in never seeing any, due to my blindness or her lack of wisdom I’ll leave for others to determine.

Wisdom is of fluid construct, constantly changing to the influx of experience and conditions of circumstance. As I wrote this on Saturday I’ve defined wisdom as “the ability to make to take the correct course of action relative to the time, place, and persons involved.” What may be a wise decision for me, today, may not be tomorrow. Likewise, it may not ever be for you. By the time I read my definition of wisdom to you this Sunday I may no longer find it valid.

I hope to pursue wisdom, in all its many forms, for the remainder of my life. For now, the immediate wisdom I seek is about making decisions and choosing the correct course of action. At 34, I now stand at a crossroads in my life, where many paths appear before me. Some are worn, guaranteeing comfortable travel for the foreseeable future. Others are less traveled, with more immediate uncertainty. And there is always the option to ignore the paths, and pursue my own route cross country.

Which route I choose will ultimately have an impact on my happiness and well being, as well as that of the girls (including Janie in the girls). I spend my days and nights seeking the wisdom to make the right choice, to define success on my terms but in a manner that will continue to provide for my family. I’m devouring books, entering conversations with people I know and respect, all in an effort not to find an answer but to gain the wisdom to create one.

I think of the wisest person I have known, my grandmother on my mother’s side, Aline. Our youngest daughter, Ali, is her namesake. A woman with a typical grandmotherly appearance, long white hair tightly wrapped in a bun, spectacles, and a flowered dress she was, in my memory, the epitome of a wise, old grandmother. Yet, as I turn to her in my mind I can remember no wise proverbs or flashing insights coming from her. No quotes to hang on the wall, no profound acts of guidance.

However, she was at peace. Without prescribing to any specific religious doctrine, she knew wrong from right and moved through life above the petty worries many of us struggle with. She and my grandfather lived on the brink of poverty, yet I can never remember a concern or complaint regarding their position. I find wisdom in those memories, and it helps turn the difficult decisions ahead into positive choices waiting to be made.

It is ironic that wisdom, in the form of wise people or wise actions, is not judged so until placed against a backdrop of history. Whatever choices I make, they won’t be judged as wisdom or folly for years to come. Yet today we have the opportunity to glean some glimpses of wisdom, as expressed by members of our congregation. Listen well; wisdom is rarely so easily gained as when offered freely by someone who gained it the hard way.

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