Uncle Thor's Lessons, Anecdotes and Humor

30
Sep

The Video Moron Phenomenon

“Hey, Mom, look at me!” Every five-year-old shouted those words when he came up with some new skill or trick. Whether it was riding a bicycle without training wheels, lacing his own shoes or doing a crude cartwheel, it was a call for approval. Good Moms usually gave the little guy some praise that made it all worthwhile.

Most of us have done some showing off. Sometimes it is a goofy thing and sometimes it is a little more serious. Those of us of a certain age were usually careful that our showing off did not lead to disaster. Those who took too great a risk were considered stupid. For instance, watching Fat Tony do a cannonball in the pool was funny because he jumped into the pool from the low diving board. That is a far cry from some of today’s show-oafs who would up the stakes by jumping off the roof. All too often, the ones taking it to an extreme do not get the results they expected.

Between the “Hey Mom, look at me!” attitude, instant video and the young folks’ need for everything extreme, we have a generation of reckless dolts injuring themselves for naught. They may have thought it was a good idea when they started rolling the video camera, but the end results are the expected consequences for stupidity.

Last month I shared a video that took the tune of the old song “That’s Amore” and put it to words mocking the latter-day show-oafs. It was entitled “That’s a Moron.” Well- placed clips of such moronic behavior was displayed, matching the words of the song. They had a lot from which to choose. There are thousands of videos of foolish stunts from which to choose. They involve the gamut from dangerous stunts with motor vehicles to taunting big animals to things too incredibly stupid to believe.

Since my youth, I have handled and fired firearms from pellet guns to 50 caliber machine guns to 8 inch howitzers. I have handled explosive ranging from sparklers to TNT. I have dealt with big animals and with some people who were considered dangerous. I still have all my fingers and toes. The reason is that there are safe ways to do all of that. Going back to the arquebuses of the Middle Ages, people realized that handling guns and ammo in certain ways prevented accidents. Again from the Middle Ages, folks realized that dealing with petards and other explosives was a lot safer if they followed certain rules. The same goes for animals, vehicles, dangerous people, etc. If one follows these rules, they have a high likelihood of avoiding danger. Most are what we call “common sense.” For many adults, it all goes back to kindergarten and that first safety rule, “Don’t run with scissors.”

This fad of taking stupid risks is widespread. I wonder if the people doing these stunts realize just how dangerous they are. In my generation, adults took time to warn us of the dangers. We were told to leave the dog alone on a hot day, to ride our bicycles safely and to avoid silly stunts.

Jumping: if you judge by action movies, people can jump from 20 feet or more and feel no discomfort. In fact, a ten foot drop can be a lot. People are not made for it. The structure of our legs limits us. Part of the problem are kids trying to imitate a French sport called parkour. They overestimate their ability to jump and get hurt. People are not supposed to jump off rooftops, eaves or terraces. Results run the gamut from sprains and fractures to paralysis and death. All just to get a few moments attention.

Vehicles: Cars and motorcycles are subject to the laws of physics. Greater speed increases the force in play. The same scientific laws that affect car on the highway also affect race cars and stunt vehicles. Racing cars and stunt cars are made to apply the laws of physics for their special purpose. This is why Forumula 1 racers are so different from the family sedan. Vehicular stunts are normally the province of trained individuals. If you do not have that training nor the specially-fitted stunt car, you have no business trying those tricks in your car or motorcycle.

Animals: One of the first lessons kids learn is to not provoke the dog or cat. Do not stick things in their ears or pull their tails. Do not annoy them on hot days because heat makes some animals testy. Whether tame or wild, animals do not have much of a capacity for reason. They react emotionally and instinctually.

Animals that are not pets, whether domestic or wild, react differently than those who are used to people. Pets see people as individuals. Wild animals and most non-pet domestics do not. Their entire existence is dominated by instincts and needs. Cattle, sheep, and goats share this with deer, bears and racoons. The animal does that for which its nature calls.

For instance, some animals are territorial. They resent anyone intruding into their space. Some species will repel an intruder harshly. Some give warnings that the intruder is not welcome. Most people would take this as a sign to leave. By the way, it gets even worse during mating season.

Another instinct is to protect their young. A horrible incident senveral years ago occurred on a college campus. A moose with her baby had strayed onto the campus. She was near a building entrance. A man heading to the building suddenly found himself confronted by the enraged moose. She mauled him to death. If you see baby animals in the wild, understand that the mother is nearby and will move to protect them. The sight of fawns, moose calves, bear cubs and the like are a sign to get away.

Taunting and provoking animals is a fool’s game. It is worse when dealing with smarter animals. For instance, a dog that cannot retaliate immediately can attack some time later when circumstances permit. Dogs remember their tormentors for a long time. Even animals considered “meek” can do harm when provoked. Sheep and goats can head-butt with unexpected force. Cows can kick hard enough to shatter bones. If provoked, deer can gore with antlers. Bears have a whole natural arsenal to express their rage.

Leave the animals alone. Do not enter their enclosures and do not taunt them. You would be surprised how an enraged animal can break from its enclosure to attack. You do not have the means to defend against it. A cow, bull, or bear is too big and too well-armed for you. Be it horns and hooves or claws and teeth, it is bigger, badder and faster than you.

Small animals are not safe, either. Racoons, possum, skunks and foxes can each do harm with claws and teeth. Add the fact that some of these little critters may have rabies.

Firearms: there have been rules of safety since someone figured out that firearms can be as hazardous to their users as to their target. Most firearms accidents are the result of stupidity. There are loads of videos of fools doing all sorts of idiot tricks. Just as bad are folks videotaping first-time shooters who have not been shown the basics of safe firing. Guns are not a joke and bullet wounds can be forever. People who treat them as toys face the possibility of harming themselves or others.

The first rule of safety is to treat every firearm as if it is loaded. It is that simple. Never point a gun at something unless you intend to shoot it. There is a safety on a firearm for a reason. Loaded guns should not be jostled or thrown. Here are a few simple rules that the video clowns ignore.

As if common sense were not enough, the penalties for careless gun handling can be stiff. A gun accident that results in physical harm or death becomes a legal matter. Criminal negligence and involuntary manslaughter are no joke. The courts do not want to hear, “I didn’t mean it.”

Explosives: As far back as I can remember, the local newspaper always carried a story or two about people who got hurt during the 4th of july. The reports appeared a day or two after the 4th. Usually, it was about someone who lost an eye or a couple of fingers. Sometimes it was a whole hand. Most of these incidents involved folks who somehow tampered with the fireworks to make a bigger bang. They might have put several cherry bombs in a pipe or removed the powder from firecrackers to make what amounted to a small bomb.

People often played with firecrackers and cherry bombs. Usually it was something silly like blowing up plastic army men. Most accidents were small. The folks who got hurt were the ones who went too far.

In the 1970s, what with the popularity of magazines like “Soldier of Fortune”, several publishers began offering manuals of improved explosives. Some were reprints of old CIA and army manuals. Some were entirely new. There was no shortage of idiots who bought the books and tried their hands at making pipe bombs. Because they misunderstood explosives, many of these cretins were hoisted by their own petards. Back in 1980, one vendor of paramiltiary books told me that he had one customer who lost an arm to the explosives. The man came back to his shop to buy more books on the subject. To his credit, he stopped selling them.

Improvised explosives are meant for a military emergency. The original manuals were also meant for use by people who had already learned to use explosives. Some key information was omitted because it was assumed the reader had already been taught. Things like the dangers of static electricity and the reason the work areas has to be squeaky clean. I remember how Pickatinny Arsenal handled everything in a very controlled environment.

Whether tampering with fireworks or making their own, fools tend to underestimate the power of their toys. Instead of a loud POP they get a massive BOOM. Both personal injury and damage to property ensue. The point is that explosives should be left to the experts. Rational folks among us know that. Frankly, I doubt the morons will ever get the point.

Water: swimming is a lot of fun, whether in a pool, a lake or at the shore. There are a few safety rules wherever you go. Beaches and public pools have lifeguards who maintain order. Private pools are another thing entirely.

In-ground pools usually have a deep and shallow end. Many have a small diving board. Around them is a walkway of concrete or stone. Swimming and diving is normally safe for most folks. Morons try and take it to another level.

One recent fad is for a moron to jump from the roof to the pool. They often mis-calculate the horizontal distance from roof to pool. Instead of landing in the water, they fall short. Splat. Others do not account for the water’s resistance. Jumping from poolside might be safe. From a roof there is not enough resistance to slow the diver. He is going to feel the impact with the pool’s bottom.

Another moronic stunt is to try to leap across the pool to the other side. If they do not make it, and many don’t, they crash into the pool and the side of the concrete walkway. Equally stupid are those who try to jump in when the pool is frozen. If they break through, they have the problem of being under the ice.

Above-ground pools are not made for diving. Suffice to say that the morons create more than their share of accidents.

As with other pastimes, swimming is best when common sense rules. It is a hazard when morons and their stunts take to the water.

Fighting: the martial arts and combat sports like boxing and wresting are done within certain parameters. They have rules and conditions that keep them safe. Matches are organized according to specific criteria. That includes things such as skill levels, weight classes and the like. Bouts are refereed according to the rules of that specific sport.

The morons have taken to staging fights, brawls and stunts for video. The bouts can be among consenting people or forced on someone by surprise. Invariably, people get hurt. Whether by showing off and having an accident or getting pommeled by an opponent, morons make a mess of themselves. Their videos of fights and attempts at martial arts tricks all too often end up in pain.

Ironically, many videos of violent assaults end up being used to convict the attackers. The need to be seen frequently translates to the means for a slam dunk conviction.

The sad fact in our times is that morons abound. So long as there are video cameras and video sharing websites, there will be buffoons showing off. What with folks also trying to imitate extreme sports, we can expect emergency rooms to be kept busy.

There are times when people have to take risks. Situations involving disasters and threats to human life may demand risking harm. The foolish thing is to risk harm for no good reason. Giving your pals a laugh or making a video is not cause enough to risk life and limb. Health and life are precious. They should only be risked in times of danger. The cause has to justify the value of one’s health. Anything less is selling life cheap. Those who do that are morons, as they obviously do not recognize the value of life.

29
Sep

Protect Yourself on the Hiking Trail

Last week, a college student was killed in a nature preserve in New Jersey. The Apshawa Preserve is a relatively small area with several hiking trails. A person is never more than a mile from the end of the preserve. The man was part of a group of five who were menaced by a black bear. The bear scattered the group and went after one of them, a college student named Darsh Patel.

The thing about hiking trails and nature preserves is that they have many isolated areas. These are not near enough to human habitation to make it easy to get help in an emergency. Likewise, it takes time for help to arrive.

Unfortunately, that isolation has occasionally attracts robbers. There were incidents a few years ago on the Henry Hudson trail in Monmouth County. Though uncommon, incidents involving robbers on trails and in isolated campgrounds happen.

The other danger, except for the usual hiking accidents, is wildlife. Wild animals are not safe. Those cute fuzzy critters can be a hazard. Bears, deer, coyotes, racoons and foxes have hassled people and their pets. Though rare in these parts, there are also mountain lions, caribou, elk, moose and grizzly bears. Animal dangers increase during the mating season and in fall when they have access to fallen tree fruit.

Many hikers like to have a walking stick. It ranges from three to six feet long. You can bring one or improvise one from a sapling or fallen branch. A good size is four to five feet, and one to one and a half inches thick. You can sharpen one end to a rudimentary point.

A stick like this is a good defense against human attackers. The best way to use it is either like a riot baton or a bayonet. The wide swings of quarterstaff and Bo stave fighting are impractical in woods and confined spaces. Besides, they take a long time to learn. Bayonet and baton can be learned in a few hours. Fighting a human adversary would use the full range of tricks of the system you learned.

Animals are another thing. For instance. if you retract your weapon too far, an animal might rush. All of the aforementioned animals have a tendency to focus on that which is closest to them. When attacking, they go for the nearest thing. If you extend your hand, they will go for it. Extend a stick and that is where they will stop. Extending a stick will keep them a safe distance from you. At the same time, you have the option to thrust and to rap with the end of the stick. Aim at the animal’s face and throat. If there are two or more of you, all the better. Sharp, stabbing motions can keep the animal at bay.

Wildlife attacks, though uncommon, do happen. The growing bear population in New Jersey increases the likelihood of attacks. There are more incidents of bears coming into settled areas and breaking into garages and houses. Incidents of bear, deer, coyote and fox attacks happen with very little apparent reason.

Two things are sure to set wild animals off. One is the protection of their young. If you see baby bears, clear the area. The mother is usually close by and she will be formidable in neutralizing anything she thinks threaten them. Deer can also be firm when it comes to fawns. Be careful if you see fox or coyote cubs. The best advice is to get away briskly.

The other thing sounds like a joke, but it happens. Fruit that falls from the tree tends to rot. In some cases, the fallen fruit ferments. Apples, peaches and pears come to mind. Animals have little resistance to alcohol and can get drunk on fermented fruit. More than a few bad incidents were later revealed to be the cause of fermented fruit. Drunken bears and deer sound funny, but like human drunks., they run from mellow to hostile.

One other implement that deserves note is the hatchet. A small hatchet can be worn on the belt by a hiker, and would not be out of place on trails which also support camping. They can be found in most hardware and camping stores. Larger camp axes are best left in camp. A small hatchet can be useful in trimming wood for a campfire, making an impromptu splint or fashioning a walking stick.

A small hatchet is not much different than a tomahawk or Norse hand-axe. It is both a tool and a weapon of self-defense. Brought down strongly on the head of an attacking animal, it is most likely to stun if not kill in one or two strokes. The larger black bears would still be vulnerable to a strike atop the head.

The problem with a knife against wildlife is that you have to get too close to its jaws, claws, hooves, and paws. Indeed, a few legends tell of men who fended off large bears with a knife. They were either very lucky or they suffered some grievous wounds in the process. Getting the blade to a vital spot on a bear, deer or moose leaves you open to bites, clawing, antler goring and clubbing with hooves. If you have time, you might lash the knife to a stave and make a survival spear. Usually, an attack does not lend you much time at all.

Apshawa Preserve is not a big place. It is about a mile and a half at its longest, and less than a mile at its widest. Yet even in such a small preserve, one can be isolated enough to be helpless during an attack. People get a false sense of security in national parks, state parks, trail and nature preserves. They do not realize that the whole premise of these places is to enjoy the wild. That means that parts of those places are outside the immediate control of man.

In nature, you are ultimately responsible for your safety. Park rangers and camp staff cannot be everywhere. Most parks issue warnings about possible dangers. It is up to you to heed those warnings and act accordingly. Like all of nature, wild animals are unpredictable Be alert and be prepared.

Most nature reserves and parks have restrictions on weapons. Some only allow firearms during hunting season. Many do not allow guns at all. The penalties can be severe.

Before your hike, take a moment to get your bearings. Look for facilities along the way. Note which spots are most isolated. Get an idea of where there are short cuts to find help. There are maps available for most trails. You can also use online mapping to get a satellite view of things.

27
Sep

Self Defense and Personal Safety

On the news today is the story of a wackadoo Muslim who was fired from his job. He responded by beheading one former co-worker and stabbing another. I do not know details of the attack, except that it happened here in the USA.

Obviously, our civilized society is not entirely safe. We cannot rely on the police to protect us. There are situations where our safety depends entirely on us.

Ultimately, we are responsible for our own safety. Part of that is being able to defend oneself. Had either of those women or their co-workers known self-defense, perhaps the outcome might have been different. Perhaps. Self-defense is not a 100% guarantee. However, it provides a fighting chance. Usually, that is all you need. All it takes is a short course in self-defense to give you something you can do to help yourself and your loved ones.

Self-defense is not the same as martial arts. Self-defense is a collection of fighting methods to protect yourself from an adversary. Martial arts are sports and traditions that require years o f dedicated study. They focus on perfection of technique and sporting ability. Most martial arts regard practical self-defense as a specialty.

Few people have the interest or devotion to become skilled martial artists. Indeed, most who attend martial arts schools lose interest in a few months. Self defense is different. It can be learned in a much shorter time. The focus is not in perfection of technique but the ability to fend off an attacker.

The hand-to-hand combat taught by most military organizations is an aggressive self-defense course. Soldiers generally learn a few unarmed combat tricks plus bayonet fighting. They may also learn stick and knife fighting tricks. Military courses are aimed at younger adults in good health and better than average physical condition. They are developed with the idea of fighting another soldier in similar condition.

Civilian self-defense is designed for folks with less physical conditioning. Most are designed for handling muggings, street attacks and other violent situations involving civilians. These include defenses against attackers, robbers, sexual assaults, etc.

I believe every individual who has the physical and mental capacity should learn self-defense. Those who join the military usually get some instruction these days. Others will have to seek it on their own. The best thing is to be taught under the direct supervision of an instructor. There are nuances to the strikes, kicks and holds that cannot be adequately taught in books or CDs.

Courses in practical self-defense are often offered by civic centers, athletic clubs & gyms and police departments. They run about ten to twenty lessons and teach a variety of striking and grappling techniques. Courses like this do not make you invincible. They give you something you can use in a bad situation. Something is better than nothing. You have a fighting chance that you did not have before, and that is a big difference.

The course I liked best was by Charles Nelson, a Guadalcanal veteran who taught in New York for almost 50 years. It was brilliant and effective. I had used its methods in serious situations and it worked. A couple of books of Nelson’s methods are available. As I said, it helps if you already have at least some instruction in self-defense before you try to learn from a book. Still and all, Nelson’s techniques were refined for civilian situations. He had originally learned the O’Neill system from a Marine sergeant who had been stationed in Shanghai in the 30s.

There is another good book entitled GetTough and a slightly different version called All-in Fighting by WE Fairbairn. The latter title has very brief additional information on bayonet and rifle shooting. The unarmed combat methods are simple and practical. They include escaping from common holds and various defenses. Also included is instruction using the dagger, the stick and a small machete called a Smatchet. The Smatchet tricks could also be used with a short stick. The book is over 70 years old, but its methods are as applicable today as in the past. Again, it helps if you have had some instruction before you try the book.

I suggest learning to use the stick. You can find basic manuals on the riot baton. Having been trained on the baton, I can speak for its effectiveness. The method can be used on any stick from two to six feet. An umbrella, axe handle or other long, rigid thing can be improvised for use as a baton.

Modern bayonet technique as described in the Army Combative Manual can also be used with an umbrella or stick. Be aware that an umbrella thrust to the throat can kill, so use caution.
There are various other methods of stick fighting. One-handed systems for a short stick are common. A good example is the stick fighting illustrated by John Styers in his book
Cold Steel. There are others. The best are simple to the point of intuitive.

Knife fighting is a very different thing. Many books have been written on it since the 1970s. Most are flashy and unrealistic. Half of the criminals who use knives end up cutting themselves when they try to stab and thrust. Their hand invariably rides up the blade and they cut themselves. A small knife is best used to cut anything an enemy extends to you – hands, leg, etc. A larger knife can be used like a short sword or small machete.

Many people are entranced by nunchaku, various known as nunchucks, chucks or chucka sticks. They were popularized by a famous entertainer named Bruce Lee. There was a lot of hype about them in the 1970s but in actual practice, they had some flaws. Any flexible weapon requires a lot of control. The wielder must know how to maintain the proper distance. Many a nunchaku wielder had hit himself at an inopportune moment. A tap with a stick can ruin their rhythm. So can throwing something at the face of the wielder. Flexible weapons are a poor choice for self-defense.

There are other tricks. One involves pouring hot coffee, hot water or boiling food on an attacker. My friend told the story of when his uncle came into the kitchen in a rage, about to beat his aunt. His grandmother had oatmeal cooking on the stove. She poured it on the man’s back and then belted him with the pan. End of hostility!

One can spray paint, bug spray or anything else into an attacker’s eyes. . You do not need to ignite it with a lighter, as some silly self-defense books show. Another trick is to drop a bar of soap in a sock and use it as a blackjack. Another trick is to pick up a pot or pan and slam the opponent. Throw a chair at him. Hit him with a chair. Improvise as you need. Do what you must to allow you to escape.

Never let an attacker pull you into a car, an alley or a building. Once he gets you there, you are trapped. Fight with everything you have to keep from getting taken inside. You are fighting for your life. Once he has you inside, your chances drop considerably.

Learn to use cover and concealment. Cover protects you from bullets, blasts and projectile. Concealment hides you. Learn how to use concealment so you can escape.

Throw your jacket, towel, blanket over his head to give you time to strike or evade.

Do not believe an attacker’s promise that he won’t hurt you if you comply. He will tell you any lie to get you where he wants you.

Groin kicks are not as easy as you think. A man who has been kicked there will know enough to be careful. You often have to set it up with a strike somewhere else. If the man’s genitals are in range, they are easily hurt. Hitting, kicking, clawing, twisting and biting cause intense pain. Be aware the pain does not last long. Use that instant to get away or hit him somewhere else.

Firearms are another matter. Again, the laws in some states (such as NJ) are ridiculous. Many places make it impractical to carry a firearm outside the home.

Laws notwithstanding, if you are going to own a firearm, you have to learn to use it. Firearms require safe handling. I grew up in a family of hunters and was around rifles and shotguns for entire seasons. Safety was no problem because it had become second nature. For those new to guns, it has to be taught. Most areas that are firearm-friendly have gun and hunting safety classes.

You should know how to load, unload, clean and operate any firearm that you own.

I have used rifles, pistols, shotguns, and fully-automatic weapons. If you had a choice of one firearm to own, the most useful is the shotgun., You can hunt with it. You do not have to be a great shooter to hit a target. The shotgun is also a potent defensive weapon. The police favored them in the days before SWAT-O-Mania. Legend says that the Colt .45 pistol won the West. The truth is that the shotgun won the West.

Pistols are easy to conceal and use in close quarters. In combat situations, when the adrenaline is flowing, they can be wildly inaccurate even in the hands of professionals. The old saw from the Wild West said, “A man with a rifle will beat a man with a pistol.” The rifle is more powerful, more accurate and tends to be steadier when things get dicey. The shotgun has the same advantage as the rifle under 75 yards.
You should be able to fire your weapon standing, sitting, kneeling, prone and crouching. You should also learn how to use cover when firing.

Back in the bad old days, my friends and I played both sides of the fence insofar as the law. Some carried weapons, legal or otherwise. A knife and a small pistol fit nicely into an engineer boot, etc. The thing about carrying a weapon is that the person has to be willing to use it. Do not carry a weapon if you are not ready to use it, if need be. I have seen punks carrying some big scary knives acting all big and bad, only to get backed down when someone figured out they did not have the balls to actually draw them. People can sense if you would use a weapon or if it is just a prop.

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Some things I have noticed over the years

I have never been in a fight – win, lose or draw – that I did not get some injury. It may have been a simple bruise or scrape or sore muscle. Nobody gets out unscathed. That’s the nature of a fight.

No self defense course or martial art will make you invincible. The best you get is a fighting chance, and that is far better than nothing. A fighting chance gives you a good likelihood of getting out alive.

Sometimes you can talk your way out of a situation. I have done it more than a few times. Even as you are talking, be ready to fight if your words do not persuade him. Talking can buy time. it can buy you enough time to look for a way to escape or get help.

Most fights are ridiculous and can be avoided. Many times, you can drive away from road rage incidents. Let the cops handle road ragers. People who lose their tempers like that tend to do stupid things. There is no point arguing with them on the side of the road.
Before you fight, ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”

In the vast majority of altercations, alcohol plays a part. Rarely is there a fight where both sides are sober.

Wisdom of the street: the person who throws the first punch after an argument is the one who ran out of words first.

If you want to negotiate your way through situations and avoid trouble, read the Havamal from the Poetic Edda.

Some people are violent for no reason. Some can turn violent for no reason.

Don’t get controversial in places where you do not belong. Know when to leave. The best time to go is about an hour before you would start shooting off your mouth.

Read the signs. If you see a lot of looks being exchanged and the atmosphere starts getting either electric or stuffy, LEAVE! It may not be your fight, but you can get caught up in it just by being there.

The game called “slumming” is nothing more than making entertainment out of less-fortunate people. And believe me, they know what you are doing. Whether you go as a group or a couple or alone, you are offensive. It is only a matter of time before the fight starts. Leave those people alone. It is their world and their safe place. You have no business pissing on their good time.

There are a lot of wannabe bad-asses out there who make themselves annoying. They are loud and obnoxious and despite their bluster, they are usually harmless. The problem is that if you or someone else puts them in an awkward position ,they may feel they have to prove themselves. That is when the trouble starts. Ignore them. They are not worth it.

Do not feel you have to be nice to people, especially if you think they pose a threat. Your well-being is more important than anyone else’s feelings. Do not get talked into something just to seem nice. Make no apologies. Walk away briskly.

12
Aug

Powerless

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” This slogan is bandied about in everything from Sunday schools to Recovery groups. The implication os that “God”, however you define him, will never put you in circumstances that exceed your power to deal with them. This is a form of mind candy used to placate those who face troubles. And in the mix, the blame for the whole sequence of events somehow lands squarely in the lap of “God.” It smacks of the challenge in the Book of Job where the main character is a pawn in a pissing match between two divine beings.

The statement is wrong. First, it is not some “God” who is doing the trick. It may be a matter of Wyrd / Karma /Kismet or it might be a simple matter of cause to effect. It may be many things. The reality is that Life is unfair and that some folks get hit with more problems than others. Most problems are manageable but a few are not. Sorry to say, folks, but innocent babies do die of cancer, good people get killed in natural disasters and schizophrenics get overwhelmed by the voices in their heads.

The recent death of comedian and actor Robi n Williams has many people asking “Why?” Did “God” give him more than he could handle, or did he wimp out on himself. If you look at it bluntly, it is obvious that the man did everything in his power and availed himself of the best help. Even with all that, it was not enough to counter his troubles. Life is unfair. Sometimes the unfairness is lethal.

A higher percentage of talented and creative people have these troubles. We wonder if ti is part of that which gives them talent. Is it a side effect of being creative? It could be either or both, or neither. We really do not know. History shows that many creative people succumbed to alcohol and drugs and other excesses. Just as many have fallen prey to bouts of insanity. Most tried to deal with the problem but lacked whatever it took to win.

I had a friend named Jackie who was something of a character. She was an attractive, good-natured woman who could be described as “nutty as a fruitcake.” For years, she had battled mental illness. It took time, but she slowly got her life in order. One of Jackie’s gifts was the ability to explain mental illness to folks who knew little or nothing about it. I learned a lot from her. The last I saw her, Jackie had a good job, nice apartment and a fiance who was wonderful to her.

One day Jackie’s illness flared up without warning and overwhelmed her. She had no defense and was dead because of it. All of her hard work and the support of her friends and family, even her successes, were not enough. So yes, folks, this hits close to home. I personally knew people who were given more than they could handle and died as a result.

Many of those afflicted with this kind of illness unconsciously self-medicate. They use booze and street drugs to buy themselves some peace. I met a man some years ago who told me his own experience with self-medication. Extreme behavior landed him in an alcoholism rehab. He was able to pu the brakes to the booze. About three or four months after leaving the rehab, the man realized that he had mental problems that needed to be addressed. He did so. As the man explained it to me, the booze masked the other problem.

We often wonder how successful people could be so distraught. After ll, they have wealth and prestige and fame. All of the money and recognition cannot compensate for serious personal troubles. The fame and the wealth do not fill that hole in the soul.

Robin Williams and those like him are victims of a disease that cannot be seen, touched weighed or measured. It masks itself in the personality and emerges to wreak havoc. All of their wealth and success cannot counter it. A higher percentage of creative and talented people have this problem than with average folks. It has caused the demise of many a skilled performer. Let us not judge them, but understand that there are those among us on whom a heavier burden has been placed by Life. And give thanks to the God or Gods of your understanding for your physical and mental health. Hopefully, science will one day find a remedy for them. Until that day, we can give them our goodwill and pray for their well-being.

“But for the grace of the God(s), there go I….”

**************

My experience is working with alcoholics and drug addicts, not the mentally ill. If you are dealing with mental illness and are seeking someone who understands, seek elsewhere. I do not have the answers you seek and I do not understand the nuances of your situation. Better to find someone who knows than to rely on the partial information of someone who knows little.

05
Aug

Uncle Thor and the Havamal Part 7 – What Rules a Man?

These two verses may seem unrelated, but once again real-life experience provides a key to learning their full importance. You have to admire the writer of these verses. He had the real-world insight plus the literary skill to describe it in a most wonderful fashion. So often does a stanza or two from the Havamal impart as much wisdom as a few paragraphs of prose.

17
When he meets friends, the fool gapes,
Is shy and sheepish at first,
Then he sips his mead and immediately
All know what an oaf he is,
18
He who has seen and suffered much,
And knows the ways of the world,
Who has traveled’, can tell what spirit
Governs the men he meets,

(18. He alone knows
who wanders wide,
and has much experienced,
by what disposition
each man is ruled,
who common sense possesses.) Thorpe trans.

Stanza 17 reminds me of a facet of what we used to call “beer balls.” It is a disease in which a wimpy, easygoing guy suddenly becomes an opinionated, belligerent jerk after drinking a couple of beers. Here we are confronted with the type who stands back and is too shy to say anything. A few drinks puts his mouth in gear and ,well, everyone wishes he would have kept his mouth shut.

This type is even unsure of where he stands with his pals. It may be insecurity or it may be guilt over his last booze-fueled diatribe. This fellow is no judge of character.

Contrast him with the man mentioned in the next stanza. Here is the fellow who has lived and learned from it. You cannot get that kind of wisdom without going through hard times and dire circumstances. I know. I’ve been there. When you have to deal with the hard side of reality ,you have to get very astute very quickly. You will learn through experience how to discern from sunny-day friends and real ones.

What the Auden-Taylor translation refers to as Spirit is called Disposition by Thorpe. Both work here. What rules a man’s heart? What idea or mood or thing tales precedence in his life? This is a mystery related to the Mannar Rune: identity. The thing that holds sway in a man’s mind defines him and also informs you of how to deal with him. What is his dominant mood? What is his greatest concern? For what will he do things he normally would not do? If you can discern that, you have a good idea as to how you should relate to him.

There are positive and negative motivations. You may have run across the bug-eyed activist who is motivated by some cause and often does foolish things in promoting it. There are folks who are motivated by an ideal, a need to do right and a sense of fairness. On the other side are folks ruleed by greed or pride or rage. For example, there was a man who was so ruled by his uncontrolled temper that he made towns too hot for himself. He was moving every few months thinking he wanted a fresh start but just as much escaping his last set of fiascos.

Find out what rules a man and you know how to deal with him.

It is usually easy to ascertain what a man wants now and in the foreseeable future. Try to discover what a man wants more than anything else.

Insight comes through experience. Sharp insight is a product of hard experience. You might think you can learn all about people by taking psychology courses. All of that pales against the insight that comes of hard experience. Courses teach ABOUT a subject. Experience brings you direct contact with the subject itself.

A man ruled by greed sees you in terms of how he can profit from you.

One ruled by anger sees his best moments overruled by fits of rage that turn friends into reluctant acquaintances.

One ruled by pride is led by his need to be the focus of attention wherever he may be.

The jealous one is dominated by his fear of losing that which he loves.

Learn to read them and you can learn to turn them to your favor, or at worse, avoid their fallout.

Look at the old ploys for turning a spy: money, ideology, ego, sex, etc, They all depend on using the thing that rules a man’s thoughts to gain his cooperation. Spies have been created and criminals have been lured to capture by offering them their pet thing. In the wrong situation, all of these things can lead a man to his downfall.

For your own security, learn what really dominates your thinking. What you think it is might not be what it actually is. Take your time and try to discern what always comes first and evokes the strongest feelings in you. Here is a case where knowledge is power and ignorance is not bliss.

01
Aug

Uncle Thor and the Havamal Part 6 Courage versus Cowardice, Happy or Sad

Courage, Cowardice, and Living versus Hiding

These following verses are extremely insightful. I had the good fortune to learn from someone who, though he never read the stanza, certainly knew the lesson it told. Many times, the Havamal verses only give their full wisdom when we have had a real-world lesson that matches them.

15
Silence becomes the Son of a prince,
To be silent but brave in battle:
It befits a man to be merry and glad
Until the day of his death,

(15. Taciturn and prudent,
and in war daring
should a king’s children be;
joyous and liberal
every one should be
until the hour of his death.)
Thorpe translation

16
The coward believes he will live forever
If he holds back in the battle,
But in old age he shall have no peace
Though spears have spared his limbs

These verses are connected in a cunning way. Merry and glad ( or joyous and liberal as Thorpe saw it ) is the way one should live his days. The very next stanza cautions that the coward will have no peace. Obviously, joy and gladness are denied him. Is this a divine punishment? No. True to the Havamal, it is a very pragmatic observation of human nature. Hidden in these verses is the message that joy and happiness are given to the brave while cowards are denied them.

Back in the late 70s, I was learning a unique hand-to-hand combat system from a Guadalcanal veteran. He had been teaching it in New York since the late 1940s. One of his stories involved being shelled by the Japanese. The shelling was ferocious and Marines hunkered in their holes, each wondering when a shell would get a direct hit and he would “get his.” The shelling ended at daybreak and all was well again.

He thought of his story in contrast to people who hide in their apartments. These people were afraid of running into trouble on the streets. They were so afraid they might “get theirs” that they imprisoned themselves in their homes. Indeed, their very fear kept them from living. I have known people like that.

We are all going to “get ours” some day. The how and why and when of it are not ours to know until that time comes. So what do we do until then? The brave will be merry and have fun, living fully to the day of demise. The cowardly will be prisoners of their own minds and be miserable as they await the inevitable.

Better to have a life than to be a prisoner of your own fears. I found this to be true. There is a world out there to enjoy.

One of the things I used to enjoy was seeing the different public spaces in large buildings in midtown New York City. The law stated that these structures had to provide public space. Usually it included places to sit and a garden and maybe some food vendors. This odyssey of mine lasted a couple of years when I worked in the City. Some friends used to join me occasionally. It was fun and always ended up with a nice container of specialty coffee and some kind of fancy pastry. Maybe it was not an act of courage, but the willingness to go somewhere unknown certainly paid off. This is but a small example of living as opposed to hiding from life.

Exploring, visiting new places, doing new things and meeting new people are welcome experiences to those who are confident. They are dreadful experiences to those for whom fear is a way of life. Is confidence a manifestation of bravery, or is bravery a manifestation of confidence? Actually, they are both facets of the same thing. Those who avoid anything new or different may mask it through a facade of complacency. I have noticed that all too often, complacency is a symptom of laziness or fear. In the latter case, it is a mind that would rather take refuge in what is known than risk something unknown.

There was a fellow who had been helping a friend. She had been sick and needed a place to stay. The woman liked staying with him. She had grown up and lived much of her life in difficult circumstances. He lived better than that. In the course of things, my friend received an offer of a new position in a new town. It was much more profitable and the circumstances were much better. He offered to take the woman with him and get her situated in better circumstances, as well. Though she said she liked the idea, she began to sabotage her relationship with him. There were a few provocations. It ended with her leaving. She went back to the poor circumstances and the street people she had known. It baffled my friend that someone would throw it all back in his face and, worse, leave him for that slatternly lifestyle.

Naturally, my friend wondered if maybe there was something wrong with him. There was not. The woman was very afraid of anything unknown. Though the future with him was sure to be better, she was afraid and so retreated to what she knew best. Fear drove her back to poverty. Another friend ran into the woman some years later and talked with her. She said she felt bad she had thrown away that opportunity. She stated that trying to work into better circumstances took her a lot of effort, and she still felt foolish that she could have had it all just by saying yes.

How can a person choose misery over something that is unknown but promises to be so much better? Baffling as it sounds, it is more common than you might think. There are many whose fear speaks to them loudest.

I like the poetic turn of Thorpe’s translation. Daring has a slightly different ring than brave. I am reminded of the old German (Prussian) system of military training. Officers were trained to follow orders. They were also given leeway to take the initiative if a situation presented itself. Of course, giving them this freedom and the encouragement to be daring entailed training them to recognize opportunity and to apply daring properly. One did not want a bunch of glory-seeking junior officers going off on their own and thereby upsetting the overall battle plan.

As in all things, daring requires discretion. Daring without direction is rashness. Focused properly, daring is the aggressive initiative that succeeds. The motto of the British SAS is “Who Dares, Wins.”

Daring is not so much taking a random chance as it is a calculated risk. Bravery is not stupid. The brave look before they leap. They assess the situation. The old saw tells us that discretion is the better part of valor. However, discretion has its limits because there are situations where the only possibility of success comes from a bold, daring approach. Over-caution can be as harmful to a strategy as a rash, headlong rush into disaster. The smash and speed of Patton tends to get more done than the surgical caution of Montgomery.

What is the business about the sons of kings being silent and “taciturn”? Aha! In a hot situation is it natural to be anxious and even a bit agitated. The adrenaline rush and “butterflies in the stomach” are among the many things that arise. You do not stifle them by chatter! Silence and a taciturn manner are symptoms of self-restraint.

Granted that fear and anxiety are best handled by acknowledging them, but in a situation where others are within earshot, it is best to acknowledge them silently to oneself. You can admit to yourself that you feel afraid but it is not a sentiment to share with others, This goes double if you are in charge. Remember too that acknowledging that you feel something negative is done so you do NOT act on those feelings. Instead, you are making sure to keep those feelings from affecting your decisions and actions.

I learned that in a hot situation, benign or otherwise, to keep all speech brief and to the point. Chatter has no place when the proverbial haufen mist is hitting the fan. Your words have to be clear, crisp, succinct and decisive. One sentence of direction is preferred to a diatribe covering the whole plan.

Back in ancient times, the family provided the hierarchy. A ruler, be he a king or jarl, would count his sons amongst his trusted warriors. These men were trained from birth to serve as leaders, and so provided a natural officer corps for their father. If the father is the General, his sons are his Colonels and Majors. We modern folks often miss things that were the accepted norm long ago. A ruler’s son was not some pampered little wimp. He was toughened and taught and expected to grow to be as strong as his father. Forget Prince Charming. Think of Prince Knock-you-into-next-week-with-a-left-jab.

31
Jul

Uncle Thor and the Havamal, Part 5 – Good Sense versus Booze Sense

Whether traveling afar or going out closer to home, keep a clear head.

10
Better gear than good sense
A traveler cannot carry,
Better than riches for a wretched man,
Far from his own home,
11
Better gear than good sense
A traveler cannot carry,
A more tedious burden than too much drink
A traveler cannot carry,
12
Less good than belief would have it
Is mead for the sons of men:
A man knows less the more he drinks,
Becomes a befuddled fool,
13
I forget is the name men give the heron
Who hovers over the feast:
Fettered I was in his feathers that night,
When a guest in Gunnlod’s court
14
Drunk I got, dead drunk,
When Fjalar the wise was with me:
Best is the banquet one looks back on after,
And remembers all that happened,

Just because everyone else is doing something does not mean that you have to join them.

Once again, we are told that a traveler needs to be smart. He has to have good sense. In the times when the Havamal was composed, going traveling meant meeting people of different stations. A man with good sense could negotiate those encounters. He would be a good judge of people and decide those with whom he could speak and who he might best avoid. Travel was serious business in the ancient North.

We are like travelers today, but have far shorter distances to go. We may deal with dozens of people and not travel a few hundred yards from our starting point. Be it business, pleasure or anything else, a reasonable individual can handle each encounter to his benefit.

Part of people skills is making the right impression. A sober individual who is polite and confident has the best chances of doing so. Be he a traveler in the ancient sense or a man negotiating the byways of the modern workplace, good sense carries him through.

Look at it from another perspective. Imagine how you react when a person visits you on business. He might be anyone from the family insurance man to a potential business associate. The man who is courteous, attentive to you and clear-headed will likely get a favorable reaction. He is giving you the respect by paying attention and he shows he is ready and willing to get the job done. People like that make a good impression.

Folks who are impolite or distracted or reeking of alcohol make a very different impression. They show a lack of respect. Their demeanor implies that you are not very important to them. As to alcohol, who wants to put up with the antics of a drunkard, whether he is slightly inebriated or staggering drunk?

Back when we were still in our early years of publishing, I had attended a printer’s convention. I had given my business card to a paper supplier. They passed it to one of their salesman, who contacted me a week after the event. Right off the top, he made a bad impression. First, he was going to tell me when I would have an appointment for him to visit. As he checked his schedule, he rambled on and on. When I tried to ask a question, he mumbled, “Just wait a minute…” and resumed his rambling. That is rather presumptuous. Obviously, this was the type of salesman who wanted to tell the client rather than take orders. I ended the conversation and made a note to never contact that company again. Few things make as bad an impression as a pushy, rude salesman.

No matter what trade you are in, a visitor who reeks of alcohol is a warning. We expect a person coming to do business to be sober. It is foolish to rely on drunks.

And there is the rest of the story in these stanzas. People assume the Vikings and ancient Germans were prime boozers. Some were, but others had a more objective perspective on alcohol. Wiser minds realized that alcohol was a luxury. It had its place. Outside of that place, it was a liability. The wise also understood that excess was not good. For those of us who partied too much in our youth, the last line is a reminder of the foolishness of blackout drinking.

There is some poetry here that conveys the idea of being sloppy drunk. Being shacked in the feathers of “the heron of forgetfulness” aptly describes how one feels when out on a toot. Again, better to remember last night’s party than forget.

Too much booze can make you forget what you are doing. A fellow went on a job interview but decided to stop in a favorite gin mill. He had a quick drink and started talking to some acquaintances. “Just one more” and he lingered a little longer. One more became two more and three more. He never made it to the interview. The man forgot his purpose amid a few drinks.

Alcohol can distract and misdirect. It makes people forgetful and dull. These verses warn us of alcohol’s power to rob us of reason.

A friend had taken his wife to a vacation at a dude ranch. They had gone out the one evening to a show. On returning, they noticed some of the other guests playing cards. As my friend put it, the card players were “drunk-up and coked-up and smoked -up.” The card players invited him to play. His wife knew what was coming and retired for the evening with a smug grin.

My friend was cold stone sober and he saw an opportunity. Playing against the drunk and the high was a sure bet. He took advantage of the other players’ fuzzy state of mind. The man bragged for weeks that he recouped the cost of the entire weekend at that card game.

The point is that the drunk is easily outwitted by the sober. If you let the booze get the upper hand, you are vulnerable to anyone who has a clear head.

Alcohol can make you a stooge.

Like many of the Havamal’s lesson, contrast sharpens the picture. These verses contrast good sense versus drunken excess. They leave it to us to fill in the blanks.

30
Jul

Uncle Thor and the Havamal, Part 4 – Advice: Good and bad

Wise Counsel versus Bad Advice

Here are lessons I learned through hard experience.

8
Fortunate is he who is favored in his lifetime
With praise and words of wisdom:
Evil counsel is often given
By those of evil heart,
9
Blessed is he who in his own lifetime
Is awarded praise and wit,
For ill counsel is often given
By mortal men to each other,

Here is a contrast between wise words and wit against bad advice. Indeed, it may as well be the difference between good advice and bad. Good advice is wise. Bad advice usually comes not from maliciousness, but stupidity.

The cunning thing here is the source of advice. A wise man will only advise on things he knows for a fact. He will not advise on things he does not know. An unwise person will advise on subjects whether he knows them or not. He likes to think he knows, but has little or nothing real on which to base his counsel.

My wife knows a woman who had remained single into her early 50s. The woman married a pastor and accepted the duties that come from being a minister’s wife. The title went to her head, because this woman who has so little marriage experience now feels qualified to advise on all matters of relationships and matrimony.

Here is a situation. A middle-aged woman has been trying to help her alcoholic sister stop drinking. Three years later and the sister is still drinking like a fish. The woman was told to read certain articles so as to get an idea on how to more effectively deal with the problem person. Both were written by individuals with deep experience in the field of alcoholism. Did she read them? No, she feels she knows everything she needs to know. Nobody can tell her how to help, The result is that the boozer is still drinking with no end in sight.

Another variant on the theme is something I have seen all too often. A person falls on hard times and suddenly all his so-called friends come to offer advice. Their advice is based solely on the fact that they feel superior to him because they are not undergoing his troubles. None of it is based on experience. The formula for bad advice is set in motion. When the troubled fellow does not accept the friends’ ill-conceived advise, they become angry. How dare a person in dire straits refuse them! The advice itself ranges from incredibly stupid to outright dangerous. To cross reference, check out the Book of Job in the Bible. Look for the response of the arrogant friends to Job’s torments. Obviously, the same kind of nonsense has been happening for a long time.

Enough bouts of giving bad advice give an individual the reputation of being a ninny. Consistently providing good counsel imparts a reputation for wisdom. The person who is known for giving good advice and wise counsel will get praise and respect. Others will refer people to him.

There is more to this than knowing something and being able to speak on it with authority. The flip side is acknowledging to yourself what you do not know and giving the wise response. That response is normally to refer inquirers to those who happen to know their particular problem. If one does nto know where to refer someone, he ought to admit it. Better to say, “I really do not know what to tell you” than send someone on a wild goose chase.

Years ago, I worked with alcoholics and addicts. I knew of the gambling obsession and learned much from a friend named jimmy. He had not only helped many people with the problem, but in his day had quite a gambling problem of his own. As much as Jimmy told me of the gambling problem, I soon realized it would never be enough for me to advise someone else. The only recourse was to refer folks with gambling problems to Jimmy and others who had overcome the gambling obsession.

How well should you know a thing to advise on it? My barometer for it is simple, Could you give a half hour to hour talk on a subject with little advance notice? If someone asked you to give a talk in half an hour, could you do it? If your answer is yes, advise. If not, refer them to someone else.

The simple way to put the issue is: who should talk, who should refer, and who should shut up.

29
Jul

Uncle Thor and the Havamal, Part 3 – Visitors, Guests, Wise men and Dolts

Whether you travel the world or traverse the neighborhood, it always helps to put good sense first. There’s a time to listen ,a time to talk, and a time to stifle yourself.

5
Who travels widely needs his wits about him,
The stupid should stay at home:
The ignorant man is often laughed at
When he sits at meat with the sage,

6
Of his knowledge a man should never boast,
Rather be sparing of speech
When to his house a wiser comes:
Seldom do those who are silent Make mistakes;
mother wit Is ever a faithful friend,

7
A guest should be courteous
When he comes to the table
And sit in wary silence,
His ears attentive,
his eyes alert:
So he protects himself,

The Havamal pulls no punches. The first stanza clearly states that travelers need to use their intelligence. Those who are stupid should not travel. The following stanzas advise that both hosts and guests should listen before speaking.

Many years ago, a younger relative had just come of drinking age. His family name was Irish and he begged me to take him to an Irish bar. I brought him to a place I knew well. It was owned by friends.

We sat at the bar while the bartender looked after some other customers. Behind the bar were cases of Guinesses stout. My relative saw them, mis-read, and laughed “Haha! Guineas!” By then, the bartender got to us.

The bartender’s name was Jimmy. He nodded and smiled . “Two beers, please,” I said. Jimmy brought the glasses of beer.

My cousin looked at him and could hardly contain himself “Do you know how Irish I am ? My name is…” he bragged.

Jimmy glanced at me and then replied to the young man in his thick Dublin brogue, “And isn’t that a wonderful thing.” The young fellow was quite surprised to find that the bartender in an Irish bar was from Ireland. Of course, Jimmy could not help but tell the other fellows about the lad’s surprise. And so my relative found himself being taunted and teased by a room full of Irishmen. And a few turned my way and poked some fun at me, too, for bringing him.

The young fellow was too dense to be embarrassed until he discovered that several of the men happened to know his father.

Had the young man listened a bit, he might have avoided embarrassment. However, I think he was just the example the Havamal had in mind. His penchant for bragging over rode his willingness to listen.

There is a trick to visiting different places. The first thing is to say very little about yourself until you know something of the folks with whom you are dealing. It also helps to look and listen so as to gauge your environment and its denizens. At the very least, it can keep you from making a faux pas that might arouse suspicion or hostility.

It is not good to say too much until you have a good idea of where you are and to whom you are talking. You never know when you might be in the presence of someone of means or of remarkable accomplishments, or someone who might be hostile to your intentions. As with railroad crossings, stop, look and listen. Once you are sure you are among people who are friendly toward you and your intentions, you can talk all you want.

A variant on the value of listening came from my counseling days. Folks in early Recovery for alcohol and addiction are advised to avoid new relationships for a time, usually six months to a year. The idea is to take time to work on oneself before adding someone else into the equation. Experience over many years has shown the value of this advice.

A young man who had accumulated about a year of recovery time was at a meeting for a recovery group. He noticed a new woman at the group and felt attracted to her. The man told this to an older friend who was sitting nearby. The friend replied that the woman had only about 40 days recovery time and would not make for a suitable relationship. The young man persisted, saying she was right for him.

The meeting was a round robin type discussion. The older man suggested that when it came time for the woman to speak, the young man ought close his eyes and really listen to what she had to say. His young friend did so and the response was strong. “Wow, she is really sick! I am going to leave her alone,” said the young man.

When he really listened, he learned the truth about the woman who had attracted him. The attraction evaporated instantly.

Many years ago, a group of Russian mystics would sit together silently. When guests came, they would listen intently. The Russian mystics said very little, if anything. People who had visited came away thinking favorably of them. A couple even remarked that the Russian mystics were “excellent conversationalists”, despite the fact that they said nothing. When people notice that you are listening to what they say, it tends to put you in a good light.

This last stanza reiterates the need to look and listen. It also advises something of human nature that can be of great benefit. People respond to courtesy. So long as you do not overplay it, a la Eddie Haskell of “Leave it to Beaver” fame, it makes an impression. Courtesy tells the other fellow that you respect him as a human being worthy of being met politely. It puts you in a better light. The implication is that a courteous person has a degree of character. Politeness also blunts any mistake or faux pas.

During World War II, Luftwaffe interrogators had a great success rate when it came to getting information from airmen. They played on the tendency among people to respond to courtesy in kind, even if the other individual was an enemy. Civility evoked civility. Indeed, there was no doubt the interrogators were the enemy, for they wore their uniforms when working. All an interrogator had to say was, “I know were are on opposite sides of this war, but at least we can be polite, yes?” The tactic worked many times.

Never underestimate the power of listening and courtesy. And remember that it is better to listen and learn before you speak. The little bit of knowledge gained beforehand can be most valuable in making your endeavor a success.

28
Jul

Uncle Thor and the Havamal, Part 2 – Guests, Senient and Otherwise

Guests, sentient and Otherwise

The next three stanzas offer advice on how to welcome visitors who have traveled a distance. It can apply to any visitor who is tired, distressed or otherwise out-of-sorts.

2
Greetings to the host,
The guest has arrived,
In which seat shall he sit?
Rash is he who at unknown doors
Relies on his good luck,
3
Fire is needed by the newcomer
Whose knees are frozen numb;
Meat and clean linen a man needs
Who has fared across the fells,
4
Water, too, that he may wash before eating,
Handcloths and a hearty welcome,
Courteous words, then courteous silence
That he may tell his tale

***************
Old Jim was the family patriarch. I remember an incident from a large family dinner that was my first inkling insofar as today’s verses. A hobo had come by the house. Jim was a retired railroad man. Now, the old movies might make you think the railroaders were at odds with hobos. Actually, they had a cordial understanding between them. The only ones who treated hobos harshly were the railroad police, known as “bulls.”

Jim allowed the hobo to use a spare bathroom to wash up. The man was invited to stay for dinner. He sat at a separate table. Afterward, Jim gave the hobo a change of clothes and a few dollars. Our guest then went on his way. This had to be between 1959 and 1962.

I had many occasions to apply the lessons in these stanzas when I was counseling alcoholics and addicts. The wisdom behind the Havamal’s verses addresses some very urgent human needs. When I worked in a rehab, the idea was to let them clean up, feed them and give them a place to sleep. Usually, they felt like talking afterwards.

Back in the early 90s, I had a subscription exchange going with the Heathen editor of a newsletter from New Orleans. Over a period of months, his communications became strange. I discovered he had been deeply disturbed by the end of his marriage, among other things. There were other odd messages and then he went silent.

About two weeks later, we received a phone call that our friend had made it all the way to Staten Island. Audrey and I went to pick him up. We met him at the odd end of the Island. There were two surprises. First, he had hitchhiked all the way here from Louisiana. Second, he was nutty as a fruitcake and hovering on the edged of delusion.

Audrey looked at me quizzically, having no idea what to do. I knew. And it amazed Audrey how quickly I fell into the routine. We brought him to our apartment and let him clean up. Meanwhile, we put together some food and some clean clothing. Once fed, cleaned and clothed, his demeanor changed. It helped when we assured him he could spend the night at our place. It relieved him of a burden. He was still hovering on the edge of delusion and needed help on that account.

To make a long story short, I did not want to send him to the New York mental health system. Thankfully I had the knowledge and experience necessary to get him to the point I could send him to his relatives. Family is the better choice here. The thing that made it possible was what I did within his first hour of arriving at our home. That opened the door.

Three things are important to most folks: food, hygiene and appearance. People like to feel that they look presentable. People function best when they are fed. It also helps when they know they have a place to feel safe for the next day. Never underestimate the power of presentability, cleanliness and a full belly. Providing these things can make a road-weary person feel like he re-entered the human race.

The conversation that follows is your proof that it succeeded. When people get that feel of comfort, they naturally want to converse about themselves. In effect, they are letting you know that they feel as if they have regained respectability that was lost in the mess and dust of travel.

Folks can quote those Havamal verses up and down. I have my proof in many cases where folks came from out of the cold back to humanity.

Be advised that you cannot bring everyone into your own home. The safety of your family and pets comes first. You may have to refer folks to shelters, detoxes or other temporary lodging. I trust that you know your own situation and can make that decision. Yet even shelters and detoxes follow that same process of feeding them, cleaning them and giving them that footbridge back to humanity.

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