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Monday, April 18, 2016

Wisdom of the Vikings Part 4: Worldliness

I know you got skills girl.


The traveller must
train his wits.
All is easy at home.
He who knows little
is a laughing-stock
amongst men of the world

This is part 4 in an ongoing series (the series starts HERE) bringing together the Hávamál (a collection of Norse wisdom poetry) and the still-evolving rules and mores of the Internet, particularly as they are developing in the realm of social media.

While this particular bit of wisdom might seem to be a fairly prosaic platitude on prudence, I think it actually represents a particularly salient perspective on the subject. The more contemporary platitude is familiar enough: Better to  remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt has be variously attributed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and few others (quote investigator has a nice treatment here). It provides the worthwhile advice that talking too quickly can get you into trouble and that it is when we speak - or type - in haste that we are most likely to embarrass ourselves. It's certainly a helpful couple of cents for anyone getting ready to venture into the wild anarchy of online forums and contentious Facebook threads.

But in this piece from the Hávamál we tap into a piece of wisdom more precisely directed at the wild unregulated frontier environment of Vikings and, per my hypothesis, the internet. Online the great tendency and temptation is to engage with the full force of one's personality and opinion. The anonymity of the web is infamously heady and it can be tempting to show off one's erudition or unload the full weight of your opinions on some poor, unsuspecting commenter, much like a young Viking warrior eager to prove her mettle by pitting her skills against some older stranger. Worldliness reminds us that having been considered a wit among your circle of friends or a bright student in your own school is no guarantee then when you go to cross words (or axes) with strangers in a strange place, you won't end up humiliated. Thus the wise viking, like the wise internet user (anyone one want to start recommending Viking-esque titles for internet users? I sense a developing need for such a term. Put your ideas in the com-box) must train his wits and remember that what was easy at home (on his own Facebook page or Twitter feed) surrounded by friends and family (in that internet echo-chamber where we can control whom we interact with and how we are perceived) may prove woefully inadequate amongst men of the world (in the larger world of forums and com-boxes). 

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