Uncle Thor's Lessons, Anecdotes and Humor

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.

28
Jul

Uncle Thor and the Havamal

Whatever you may think of its origin, the Havamal is one of the most amazing texts of its kind. The bulk of it is a litany of practical advice for survival and success in the everyday world. My own experiences back in the bad old days confirm its sage advice. The Havamal is unlike codes of behavior in that it is not a set of rules. Nor is it a collection of high-sounding proverbs. To put it simply this stuff works!

This series of articles is taking passages from the Havamal and connecting them to my own real-world experiences and observations. Aside for ma few magickal passages such as the Rune poem, the Havamal is blunt, realistic and pragmatic.

We follow the verse-numbering of Hollander and are employing the Auden-Taylor translation for practical purposes.

1) Point man! The point man goes out ahead of his squad in search of signs of the enemy. It is his job to make sure the way is clear before he allows the rest of the unit to follow. The point man is a milirary manifestation of the advice of the following stanza:

The man who stands at a strange threshold,
Should be cautious before he cross it,
Glance this way and that:
Who knows beforehand what foes may sit
Awaiting him in the hall?

A few modern phrases come to mind. Look before you leap. Don’t walk into a left hook.

It takes only a second to glace about when entering a room, building or yard. That is good advice. How often have people walked into a hold-up or brawl? And how many have walked into a deliberate ambush?

Many years ago there was a roadside gin mill that served lunch. They had a pretty good burger. It was a few miles from a place we used to enjoy in the mountains. On the way up one Saturday, my friends and I opted to stop at that gin mill and have some of those nice hamburgers.

Approaching the door, I had a feeling something was not quite right. As I opened the door, I looked inside. The atmosphere was electric and hostile. We could see the way folks were looking at each other that something bad was about to happen. We retreated, left and went to another place a couple miles further up the road.

The barmaid in the second place was just serving our beers when we heard sirens and noticed police cars headed in the direction from which we had come. The next day’s local newspaper had the account of an insane fight that escalated to a nasty brawl at the first bar. Weapons had been involved. Not a situation in which one wants to be a bystander.

Some fools had gotten themselves into a pissing match over something incredibly stupid. On one side was a local tough guy type and his pals. On the other were the owners of a bar and grill. The tough guy liked harassing the couple and would show up at the bar just to be annoying. The actual beef was the petty kind of thing that most folks shrug off. At worse, the average fellow would just take his business elsewhere. The tough guy turned it into a big thing and acted as if he had a point to make. He had made threats and caused trouble.

One night near closing time, the tough guy and his pals came looking for trouble. They did not look close enough. Anyone else might have taken one look inside that bar and left. For such a late hour the place had a good number of bikers and they were all focused on the front door. Ambush! I would not want to walk into an ambush, even if it was meant for someone else. Would you? The tough guy and his associates strode in like nothing was wrong. The first inkling that things were wrong was when the owner locked the front door behind them.

The tough guy and his friends were used to local fights with fists. They were unprepared for members of a 1% bike club who used knives, chains and tire irons. Only a miracle prevented anyone from getting killed that night. It so happened that the couple who owned the bar had a nephew who was a member of that motorcycle club. He did not like the idea that some punk was harassing family.

This is not a moral about fighting, but an example of how people can ignore every warning that trouble is imminent and it is therefore a good time to leave.

A little advice about ambushes. They are usually arranged to give the advantage to the ambushers. What you see at first is not everything you will get. It is what you do not see that hurts most. Ambushers will likely outnumber you, be better armed, and have a few extra surprised to turn the tables against you. There is never a fair fight.

Avoiding the ambush sends the ambushers into disarray. Too many do not know what to do if their intended prey avoids the ambush.

It is a good idea to hesitate and look about when entering a room. Scan the room and the people. Even if there is no trouble, that extra second or two gives you the option to choose where to sit. Better to sit near people who won’t bother you than folks who look to be the irritating types.

People go about preoccupied with the issues of the day or distracted by their cellphones and game pads. They are easy prey to thieves and muggers, not to mention prime candidates for accidents. Pay attention to your surroundings at all times. A little awareness prevents accidents and ambushes of all kinds.

More stanzas to come, more lessons to learn

22
Jun

Spiritual Observations

(I am purposefully using generic terms in this discourse on Spirituality. This is done make it relevant to people of many religious and spiritual backgrounds. Translate these concepts into the terms of your own spiritual path. Any way you slice it, these are my own observations.)

My background is known to many readers but may surprise a few. Spiritually, I have experimented with everything from Alchemy to Zen and back again. I am known in the Heathen (Norse / German Pagan) communities for overt 20 years of publications. My take on religion and spirituality is simple, straightforward and practical. Some of these observations are:

1) Anything that is genuinely spiritual ought to be practical.

2) Anything spiritual ought be to be understandable in common everyday English.

3) No one person, group or religious denomination owns all of spirituality. At the end of the day, it is up to the individual. And in my experience, Spirit is far less concerned about his religious affiliation than in his character and sincerity.

4) Spirit, God, Goddess, Gods, Mind, etc. will respond when one’s approach is along the right lines.

5) The aforementioned right lines are not narrow, but broad. There are more ways to work correctly along these lines than there are ways to be wrong.

6) In matters of Spirit, do not be stupid. Things which sound stupid usually are. Spirit does not support stupidity.

7) Spirit will guide you to things which are wise, productive and successful. Spirit will not direct you to things that are foolish, depraved and useless.

8) Doubt is necessary to spiritual growth. Doubt means there is more to discover. Those who choose to believe in something despite doubt only build a wall which they shall not pass. Invariably, the very truith they need – the truth that would replace doubt – is just the other side of that wall. Doubt is an indicator of spiritual honesty.

9) Supreme Being is a verb, not a noun. Supreme Being implies the totality of all there is, in this realm and the next and so on. Therefore, we are part of this great movement of everything that is Supreme Being.

10) It is the nature of Existence to express itself in greater and greater complexity. It starts simple and grows into more and more complex forms. Look at the living creature of our planet. They began as single-celled entities and evolved into complex beings. The same can be said of the physical Universe. Hydrogen was the first Element. It eventually created Helium, and from there the other Elements. The full explanation is found in the formation, life and death of stars. “From One comes Many.”

11) This Universe is a spiritual as any other. It is as spiritual as the so-called afterlife. Matter is not opposed to spirit. They are essentially part of the same thing. The key is to perceive the spiritual in this life and in the world of our experience.

12) One’s relationship with Spirit is reflected in his life.

11
Jun

Shades of 1975

On the news tonight : Al Qaeda allied insurgents have taken the Iraqi city of Mosul. They took the city with relative ease. Iraqi Army troops dropped their weapons and ran. This is the third city to be assaulted by insurgents. They have already made deep inroads into Ramadi and Fallujah.

Who dropped their weapons and ran? Does it sound like the ARVN in 1975? In fact, doesn’t the rampant corruption reported in the current Iraqi government sound eerily like that of the South Vietnamese?

The United States trained both the modern Iraqi and 1970s South Vietnamese armies and equipped them. We trained the troops and we let the officers study at our own facilities here in the US. The United States also bore the brunt of fighting in the early years. Our forces did the bulk of it in Vietnam and in Iraq. We overcame tremendous odds at Khe Sanh, Hue, Fallujah and Ramadi. The United States also incurred casualties.

The ARVNs thanked us for their freedom by dropping their weapons and running. Now the Iraqis are doing the same thing.

Should the United States go back there are help them regain lost territory? NO! Not many years ago, the Iraqi Army was the most powerful military force in that region. They have the manpower and materials to make a force large and powerful enough to retake their cities. What Iraq obviously lacks is the will to do it.

We bought them a chance to have a great future. The United States paid with manpower and equipment. It paid with the lives of our troops. It paid with the wounds of those who are now disabled. And believe me, the heart and courage of our modern troops is every bit as strong as that of the fellows who stood toe-to-toe with the British at the Battle of Monmouth. We paid with our best people and gave them back their country. Just like we did in Vietnam.

Just like Vietnam, the corrupt Iraqi politicians were more about lining their own pockets than securing a nation for their people.

We may have to deal with this new Syrian variant of Al Qaeda in the future. However, if that time comes, it has to be entirely on our terms and for our security. The United States cannot afford to be drawn into Iraq’s quagmire. We gave Iraq everything it needed. The only thing we could not give them was the will. Not one more American should suffer for Iraq.

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

What is Iraq’s future? Look at Korea. The South Koreans fought to maintain the freedom bought for them by the United States and UN forces. Today, South Korea is a prosperous modern society. Contrast it with North Korea, a dismal land of totalitarian government, famine and shortages of basic needs.

In the case of Iraq, a failure to regain their lands will likely culminate in a state much like Afghanistan under the Taliban, circa 2000. Iraq has the largest middle class of any society in the Middle East, but that is being lost even as I write.

My message: if you are not willing to fight for it, you do not deserve it, anyway.

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