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Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Time to Speak and a Time to Listen - The Wisdom of the Vikings Part 10

Don't be like this

Bad Manners

At a feast
the fool chatters
or he stares and stammers.
Just as soon as
his jug is full
ale unveils his mind.


He is truly wise
who's travelled far
and knows the ways of the world.
He who has travelled
can tell what spirit
governs the men he meets.

Note: This is part 10 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.

As we have worked our way through the Hávamál, it has become increasingly clear that the wisdom structure within it relies heavily on an Aristotelian style virtue ethic (click back to Part 9 for a good synopsis of virtue ethics). The aphorisms all apply but sometimes may seem to be contradictory due to the fact that the situations differ. In one context, the wise thing may well be to avoid confrontation, whereas in another situation it is all but necessary to engage as thoroughly as possible. The first situation calls for the virtue of discretion while the second requires boldness or courage. Critically though, any application of virtue ethics requires a controlling virtue of discernment, what Aristotle referred to as practical wisdom (phronêsis)

These two poems do a good job of establishing both the necessity and basic process for acquiring discernment. In the first, we get a picture of the person who lacks discernment—the fool. The character who, in medieval Iceland, distinguished himself by talking first and noticing later, or attempting to engage beyond his depth - talking and chattering just as soon as he relaxed into his drink, is just about as easy to spot online. This is the character who seems to have something to say before he even reads the comments thread, the individual who is sharing her "all important, epic takedown" which turns out to be a banal or fallacy-filled scree. One of the troubling things about the fool is that fools rarely recognize their own foolishness - they are proverbially "wise in their own eyes". Internet fools, like Viking fools, are recognized as such by others long before they see their own foolishness. 

Wisdom will be recognized —
it doesn't have to be asserted.
In these two poems, the Hávamál offers the, remarkably un-sexy, reliable cure to fool-dom—experience. The virtue of discernment—that power to recognize the quality of ones own thoughts, as well as others as well as when it is and is not appropriate to share those thoughts—cannot be bought for gold or silver. There is not quick and easy method for obtaining it (though if you can get a sip of the mead of the Gods that might not hurt). One has to experience the relevant world. The best advice at this point is to probably assume that "being new" = "being a fool", though that should be taken far more as a rule of thumb than as some sort of ontological proclamation. A second piece of advice (though it does not show up in these two poems) would be to be humble whenever possible. One clear difference between fools and the wise is that fools are far more likely to make sweeping declarations where the wise ask questions and hedge their statements (though this too can be taken too far but that is a question for another post). 

So take some time, read all the other comments before you post anything critical, and stick around to see how the conversation goes. Thank others for their input and the read some more.

Click HERE for Part 11

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