Self Reliance, Or, Who Do You Trust?

When I was a kid I remember being at a small airfield with my dad. As we walked past the planes, he explained to me how they were built. We stopped in front of one plane and he told me that this one didn’t come from a factory; It had been built by the owner. I remember being amazed that someone would build, and then fly, their own plane. He asked me if I ever wanted to build one, and I told him that I might not trust that I had done a good enough job, and I would be afraid of it coming apart on me (I was a kid with no idea what it would take to actually build one). I asked him if he wouldn’t feel nervous in a plane he built as opposed to one built at a factory, and without hesitation he told me that he’d trust one he built himself much more than one built at a factory.

The memory has stuck with me for 30 years. He had spent a lifetime surrounded by and flying aircraft of all shapes and sizes, and was amazingly skilled with his hands. He didn’t think he could trust himself, he knew it.

As we start our 11th semester program this weekend, I’ve been reflecting on what I want our graduates to walk away with. Obviously I want them to have the tangible skills and knowledge that come with being fully immersed in the bushcraft lifestyle for 10 weeks. But from a more philosophical perspective, what do I see as the lasting benefits of our programs, independent of the content knowledge?

The answer is a self-reliant attitude. The way of living your life where you don’t think you can accomplish something, you know you can. Hesitation-free. This self reliance isn’t taught in our courses. Even if we wanted to, I don’t think we could teach it. I don’t think it can be taught. Instead it’s a gift that comes with learning the hard skills and the background knowledge. It comes as a result of the learning, but ultimately, it is the learning and the goal of our programs. When you have it, the world is a different place.

Ten years after someone takes our semester course they might not remember how to tie a lining bridle on their canoe. They might not remember how many front toes a fisher has. They might not remember all of the techniques and skills they’ll have polished for ten weeks. But that attitude of self reliance, the confidence that comes with knowing you can take care of yourself, will never leave them. And that, I think, is the lasting lesson we aim for people to have when they leave here.

Summed up in a single word, our educational philosophy is this: Can.

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