Stray From The Pack

“I was just thinking that of all the trails in this life there is one that matters most. It is the trail of a true human being. I think you are on this trail and it is good to see.”

--Kicking Bird to Lt. John Dunbar in Dances with Wolves

When does true wisdom kick in? Is it the accumulation of lessons learned--like burning your hand as a toddler--or is it the rejections, celebrations, joys and sadnesses you experience as an adult?

· Have you ever had a moment where certain tumblers of the locks in your mind click and fall into place, and realizations hit you like a door that’s just been thrown open to a blast of wind? A moment crystallized in your mind that lasts forever: watching a parent leave the house the day the divorce was finalized, seeing a child wrap his arms around the new frisky puppy you brought home, watching a casket lowered into the ground.

· Have you ever seen a former sweetheart from a distance and feel your heart fall into your gut in a panic? Neither regret nor happiness, simply the unresolved terms with which that separation occurred. How much you’ve grown since then, how much better you would have handled it today as you’ve gone over it a million times since then. You wish the other person only knew, although you could never find a way to say that now. It is such an intersection of life, so many lessons in that moment.

· Have you ever stood by and helplessly watched a loved one surrender to death and feel a depth of sadness beyond your wildest imagination? A feeling you could never truly describe, had it not been experienced. Then minutes later, you find yourself calmly explaining to other people what happened. In that moment, you almost step outside your body and watch yourself as if in a play. Complete automatic pilot with nothing but raw emotion governing your actions.

From Excuses To Know-It-Alls

As a young man I rationalized a lot. I think we all do. We bend the circumstances to excuse the choices we make, and explain the logic that led us to a decision--good or bad. But as years roll on, we begin to see that the excuses are paper-thin and transparent, and no amount of talking or explaining can slip by the understanding of peers who have been in the same situation and have the same collected wisdom.

Why, then, are we so sure about what others need, want, and think? Why do we take all of that accumulated knowledge and disregard it when the opportunity for a snap judgment is available? I bet the president never realized that all the answers were so simple. In my travels, I have come across so many people who are so sure what others should do. I cannot believe we are making things so complicated with so many experts around.

Take the war in Iraq, for instance. I met a man the other day who knew exactly what to do. He had done no research, and he didn’t need to count civilian casualties. He had the answer. And it was so simple. “Start dropping bombs until you turn the place into a parking lot,” he said. See the genius in that? So simple and look at all the free parking we gain!

And what about the daily fight we all have with the “battle of the bulge.” Again, I stood witness to another piece of wisdom regarding this topic. We don’t need fad diets or Dr. Phil, no reason to count calories or cut carbs. According to one woman, the solution is again, so easy. She said, “If a woman looks like that, they should shove her in a closet and throw away the key until she’s thin.” Look at that! It’s a one-step solution that also creates more room in the house, and cuts the family food bill instantly.

And when it comes to construction wisdom, it is so comforting that everyone knows what the road crews and designers should be doing. When orange barrels signal another inevitable traffic delay as a road is improved, widened or maintained for our safety, the best thing to do is prove how much we despise the road crew as we blow past. When you see a flagman standing in the 90-degree afternoon sun, speed up, if for no other reason than to liven up his day and make it clear to him that you don’t want any stinking improvements. Then the brilliant utterance, “I don’t know why they can’t do these things in the winter.”

Follow Your Instincts

Clearly then, despite our experiences and gained knowledge along the path, there is no denying the human animal, that part of us that is simply not very patient or generous.

Acknowledging that we know so much, why are so many seeking answers outside themselves? Why is any fad followed in hopes of grasping the inner knowledge we feel we lack?

In February, I heard promotional spots for a Webcast class touted by Oprah Winfrey that would include life-altering revelations as we awoke to our life’s real purpose. The revelations were from a book that happened to be available in a bookstore I visited the weekend prior to the Webcast. People were lining up to buy it, and I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed a copy and glanced through it. In about 15 minutes I saw where it was all going. Without revealing the whole contrived work, let me cut to the chase--live in the now, don’t carry baggage, scratch when it itches. I hope I didn’t ruin it for you.

All I could do was laugh. My wife and son looked at me like I’d lost my mind. Folks, if you paid honest money for this, I’m sorry, but that’s a shame. All I could think of was Dennis Miller’s old statement about “living in the now”: “Now I’m broke. Now I’m still broke. Now I’m selling my blood to buy some Ramen noodles.”

My friends, you and you alone are the best gauge of what is real and what is useless. The innate responses that brought you to the job, the life, the family you have are based on what is real and important to you. If you feel it doesn’t stack up, you and you alone again are the only one with the power to change it, and that comes from the inside working its way out, not the outside getting in. Do you want help from Oprah? Be in the audience on car giveaway day. Other than that, to thine own self be true. If you can get a bead on that, I guarantee results … or double your money back.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail