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Notes from the Small Pond-The impotency of titles and adjectives

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Notes from the Small Pond Cloquet, 55720
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

A buddy of mine recently graduated from his "Leadership Duluth" class. A few years ago he completed the "Blandin Leadership Program." So. Now he's a leader. George-Freaking-Washington.

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Another pal just earned his Ph.D. in philosophy. So. Now he's a philosopher. Emmanuel-Freaking-Kant.

Meanwhile, there's this guy who paints our house. He's a painter. Cuz he paints. And he's never been to "painter school." Doesn't have any degrees. He just paints. And he does what he does better than just about anyone I've ever known who do what they do. Because he does it. It's not a façade or a symbolic salute to his value as a person or his ego or his lordship. He just does what he does better than everyone else and he shuts the hell up about it.

Once, when I was in seventh grade, sitting in the back seat of a friend's station wagon as his dad drove us to Two Harbors for a hockey game, my buddy was bragging about how tough he was and how he was going to Nick the Agates once we got on the ice. He was relentless. Finally, his dad interrupted, saying:

"Guys who talk about being tough rarely are." That stuck with me.

So. I can't help be annoyed with all this self-definition rhetoric.

I'm a leader. I'm a change-agent. I'm very philosophical. I'm badass. I wear a "Tap-Out" shirt (so I can probably beat you up). I'm contemplative. I'm a people person. I'm compassionate. And so on...as my buddy's dad pointed out, folks who are what they are don't have to convince anyone, least not themselves that they are. Authenticity authenticates. Titles, adjectives just don't. Saying something - applying words to something - doesn't make it true. Or, put another way: talk is cheap (even if words are not).

For example, "being a leader" - either you are or you're not; and it's a simple test: look behind you. If anyone's following you that normally would not be, then you're leading. If not, well, then you're just First-in-Line following your own agenda, followed by clones. Not exactly Lincolnesque.

And my philosopher friend. It'd be so much less annoying if he'd just get on with it and stop dominating every conversation with how unfair the world is because he can't find a job utilizing his degree in philosophy, etc. As I recall, Neitzche didn't die in robes of riches gleaned from his philosophizing. I think it was syphilis that got him, but that seems too perfect and is probably a myth.

"Ever write anything, Dude?"

"No, I can't stand writing anymore. College burned me out on it."

"Reading anything?"

"That Fifty Shades book..."

"Good God, Dude."

"What? It's entertai--"

"Not actually reading any more than that dimwit is actually writing."

"Well, it's just leisure reading, man."

"It's a leisure waste of time - worse, it encourages more of the same...as if we need more vapidity. Might as well go watch Bachelor...or to save yourself some time and brain cells, go sit in the corner and hit yourself in the head with a claw hammer for a while."

Not exactly philosophizing. Not exactly showing much philo for sophy.

Meanwhile, the painter shows up early every day. Grinds his scrapers. Climbs his ladder. Works his craft. Foot-by-labor-intensive-foot. Each job a piece of art in his portfolio. No leaderships skills necessary. No philosophizing. No braggadocio or tight T-shirts or overcompensating giant pickup trucks.

But I'd follow the guy a hundred miles further than I'd follow the Head of the Class of whatever Leadership School you name. And I'd listen to whatever he had to say about just about anything a hundred times sooner than I'd suffer the fools dressed as geniuses on most any talk show. And if I ever heard him brag I'd take it on faith that he's good to his word, which would be easy, because he does what does and that's that.

Cloquet resident Parnell Thill, former Pine Knot author of "Notes From the Small Pond" column for nearly a decade, is resurrecting the column on a limited basis as he works on a collection of short stories by the same title, along with other writing projects.

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