This post was originally posted on the JMB Blog on October 14, 2009. It has been edited and updated, and is more true now than it was then.
By the time you graduate from high school you’ve spent twelve years being indoctrinated into the ways of our culture. You know a bit of trivia about the past, can solve some math problems, and hopefully know how to read, write and think critically. But the vast majority of people are still strangers in the natural world that gave rise to our modern culture. They have no knowledge of how to take care of themselves. They don’t know how to identify common edible plants, read the sky to forecast the weather, navigate by the stars, build a comfortable shelter out of natural materials, or make a fire without modern equipment. They know nothing about the simple outdoor life that most of humanity has lived.
These days, due to a fear about what the future might bring, many people are motivated to learn more about survival, bushcraft, (all semantics; these terms point back to a simple life with low infrastructure), but most won’t do anything except check out a few websites and learn some buzzwords. But this does not aid them significantly with regards to reaching their goal of being competent and comfortable in the outdoors in all seasons, and have confidence in their ability to do so and take care of loved ones if need be.
If you’re reading this you probably already have a few books that promise to give you all you need to live in the wilderness for an extended period of time. But they didn’t deliver, so you’re looking for more. To really learn to be self-reliant while on or off the grid, it takes time and experience, as well as sweat, cold, mud, bugs, tears, laughter and sore muscles.
But people in the modern world are lazy. Why do you think there are so many survival tools and gadgets that didn’t exist a hundred years ago? Or courses suggesting you’ll be able to live indefinitely in the wilderness after participating in a one-day seminar? Because people want the easy way.
Here’s a news flash; there is no easy way. You can buy all the gear, but without experience and the knowledge that comes with it, it is a bad investment.
Or you can go the old way, the hard way, and know deep inside yourself that you’re the real deal, with an unflappable confidence that cannot be faked. How will you know? Experience.
After over two decades in the bushcraft-survival-outdoor business, I’ve seen firsthand that only a few forsake the throng and choose the hard, authentic, time-tested old ways of doing things. They are not fast, not flashy and not changed by the latest and greatest piece of kit to come on the market. But the old ways result in deep knowledge, and deep knowledge and practiced fundamentals outperform tricks and gadgets most of the time, and in the long run, in my experience, all of the time.
If you’re choosing to learn to be more self-sufficient, choose your path wisely.
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As an educator I see that there is a big shift with the Millenials and Generation Z. I see a shorter attention span. In fact we had an in service on some of the characteristics of the new generation in education. They have an attention span of approximately 8 seconds so you have to do something to capture that or you lose their interest. I did take some umbrage to that concept and think back to the greatest generation that landed on the moon with a slide rule. Tried and true will survive in the end, so to speak. Also I see that too many of our young people are dependent on technology and being connected with one another. I am not sure if they could handle the silence of being in such a place. This is the generation of the selfie. Where they have to be connected almost like the sci fi characters in Star Trek called the Borg. Maybe that is going too far but it is what I see right now.
Thanks for the honesty John, and calling it like you see it.
This is what I needed. I really enjoy reading about skills and the pioneers but it doesn’t count unless I get out there and live it.
Interesting, Tim. I’ve been working on a blog related to this topic called Dumbing Down Self-Reliance. I’ll link your thoughts for sure. Thank you, sir!