Down-Home* Wisdom

I’ve always admired people who could look at the stuff (objects and activities) of everyday life and find wisdom. My grandfather was one of those people. So is Seth Godin.

What is wisdom?

Wisdom is an elusive (difficult to describe) idea. It’s more than being smart or knowing a lot. To put it (say it) simply, wisdom is the ability to make good judgments (opinions from careful thinking) and decisions. It’s the ability to make appropriate (correct), practical use of what we know. We can learn wisdom from others, but most probably comes from experience, from the knowledge we gain (get little by little) from life.

Splitting wood

This little bit of wisdom from Seth Godin caught my eye (got my attention) because it reminded me of an earlier time in my life. Until I moved to California, I lived in Kansas and Nebraska – in the center of the U.S. – not too far from Minnesota, where Jeff grew up.

For a couple of years, I owned a piece of property (land) in Nebraska with large oak trees. And I cut dead branches off of the trees to burn in our fireplace. If you’re familiar with oak, you know it’s very hard wood. That’s good because it burns longer and hotter than soft woods. But it’s bad when you’re trying to cut it and split it (break or separate them into smaller parts). It’s a lot of hard work.

I would always cut the branches into pieces about two feet long – just right for our fireplace. If the pieces were too big around (the diameter, or distance around, was too large) I also had to split them. There are machines you can use to do this, but I did it by hand (myself), usually with an axe (tool with long handle for cutting trees), just like the man in the picture.

Log-splitting wisdom

Here’s Seth Godin’s log-splitting wisdom, a lesson for life:

When using an axe to split logs, it’s awfully (very) tempting (looks like a good idea) to aim (choose the place to hit) at the top of the log. After all, if you miss the log entirely, it’s dangerous or at the very least, not effective….

The problem with aiming at the top is that the axe loses momentum (energy) before its work is done and you end up with a stuck (impossible to move) axe and half a split log.

No, the best approach (method) is to focus (concentrate) on splitting the bottom of the log. Split the bottom and the top takes care of itself (happens automatically as a result).

I’m not talking about turning the log upside down or some other trick. I’m pointing out (showing or demonstrating) that if you aim at the top – at getting started – then you don’t split the wood. If you aim at the bottom – starting at the top – then you do. Hitting the top of the log isn’t the goal (purpose), it’s only the beginning of the stroke (movement of the axe through the wood). In other words, don’t focus so much on starting something. It’s the follow-through (continued movement) that will get you there, so the beginning must be with the end in mind. And yes, this actually makes wood chopping far (much) easier.

I think Godin is right – about splitting wood and about life.

*down-home – a simple, unpretentious (not trying to impress) way of life; having simple values or customs (ways of doing things).

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for improving your English.

Photo by Ollie Crafoord is used under Creative Commons license.

This entry was posted in Life in the United States. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Down-Home* Wisdom

  1. Fuad (KSA) says:

    it’s our nature to be inclined toward wisdom. This article is full of wisdom. I consider finding such an amazing website is invaluable opportunity.
    thanks to the contributors.
    warm greetings from Mecca to Dr. Jeff and Dr. Lucy

  2. bakhtyarblue says:

    Keep following through from what you have beeing doing so far, thank for explaning good vocabulary of the each blogs.

  3. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Hello teachers and friends
    I have been absent from this page for a couple of days and I have felt missing so much. Speaking of wisdom is a good subject, yet when I remember my grandfather, that old man with white beard on his face, a big mustache, blue eyes, an Italian immigrated. He used to give me good advices; hand his tools and work hard all day long, chopping tree trunks, hoeing the ground, raking leaves, carrying loads from one place to another. Like my grandmother, he used to go to bed early and wake up early too, at the dawn, with the sun still hidden behind the mountain. It’s a pity he is gone! Good moments that never come back again.
    My excuses if I have made you remember your grandparents.
    Aecio from Brazil

  4. ka says:

    Jeff and Lucy, I feel so guilty cause I have been listening all of the ESL and EC and I have never said thank you for the wonderful job you have been doing, It is not fair just take advantage of your hard work and never say a word, I sincerely apologized for being such a selfish, I want to let you know that I am so glad of you, cause my english has improve a lot, I hope you forgive me, I even read the blog regularly, I have met your student through the blog, the most faithful one Emiliano from Spain, today I will sleep in peace, better late than never, I almost forgot, i am from cuba living in miami for 3 years. Thank you

  5. emiliano says:

    Thank you very much Ika, you are really very nice.
    All merit are of our dear teachers Lucy and Jeff, as you said wisely.
    I have been with them for more than four years and yes, they are wonderful persons also the best English teachers of the world.
    As teachers and as persons, they are excelent, I know it quite well by my long experience.

    Please, write more often, it seems to me that I am listening your Cuba acent so greater nice for Spanish ears always, and your
    English is splendid too.

    Best wishes, emiliano

  6. Peter says:

    Nice piece Warren ,
    I am turning 35 and I started schooling all over again . It is a beginning that I don’t embrace bro.
    I had a good job , the economic turn-down laughed , rather humiliated me out of work. I pulled out all the stops to land another job even remotely related to my area of expertise , no success. Then, I went out of my way to do some bad jobs .soon after, I realized they are not me . So, as a last resrot I returned to school, hoping 2 years from now, I will be well in my way to start up a specialty store . I know u r saying ” dream on.” common bro , don’t kill the buzz:)))
    See my friend,
    I m on a steady diet of human suffering.
    The beginning wasn’t very promising and the follow-through has scared bejeezes out of me.
    And , the ending is very vague to me.but there is one thing that I am certain of; till the ending arrives, I will get stomach ulcer completed with a clean hemorrhage strok:)
    Yours Peter

  7. Peter says:

    I know the way I put down my thoughts Is bush league
    But it is the only way I can vent out
    Sorry for all the nagging on my part
    U r the best

  8. Peter says:

    Dear Jeff,
    There are lots of common terms and expressions out there worthy of mentioning on the blog.
    Litterally ,of all of them, all of them are practical plus educational.
    It is not the point , though
    the point is ,I don’t know the blog tolerance on the matter.
    So , I never throw Some on the blog
    But , with due all respect sir, it would be beneficial to us if you kindly point them out from time to time as those terms and expressions have taken root in culture ,and in a way,have influenced the way English-speaking people express themselves.
    Peace out

  9. emiliano says:

    Thank you Warren, It´s a very interesting subject but to me it´s really difficult to talk about this matter.
    You have said us clearly what wisdom may be but who has it?
    I have been a long time thinking about it o who persons may have wisdom from the very all I have met along my life.
    In fact very very few and some times after thinking this friend or that one person own it…………well,….may be not enough
    as to be consider as wisdom persons.
    May be this virtue is like when God told Lot that if he found a just in Sodoma or Gomorra, He forgave the cities and their inhabitants
    from destruction, but Lot didn´t find any “just” after searching fo only one.

    Yes, I know I am partial to my judment, but I think that Cuca my wife is one of the most wisdom persons I have met along my
    life, and I am a very fortunate person to be at her side as I haven´t any wisdom at all.
    Very often, I have to request her opinion when I have in mind important or delicate matters that I don´t know what to do or say.
    She use to be right frequently, she takes the life by the best side always giving no importance to the silly things we use to be
    worried, she knows how to treat the problems in the best way not hurting people feelings neither hers, so to me she has
    wisdom about daily life, how to do things in an easy way, how to laugh about so many things, and finally not giving relevance
    to the little problems we have day after day.
    I always admire this quality of her, but now that she is ill I admire her even more.

    Thanks again Warren, just a very good subject to talk long.

  10. Tania says:

    Hi! Are we wise if we have wisdom – teeth? We all have wisdom – teeth but are we all wisdom? We can read a lot of books but sometimes without experience from life or in a certain field we know nothing.
    The practical people are favorite. I think the down – home wisdom is very important in a family. If not, everything is boring.

    Do what you know to do all your best. Like in “Forrest Gump” movie.

    Nice article.

    Best wishes,


  11. Tania says:

    Hi! Dear Warren,
    There are many oaks forests in my country and with a saying : strong like an oak.
    Anyway I don’t know the log – splitting wisdom. But when I was a child we used the oak wood to burn in our fireplace, too.
    And now, when I am in the country I breathe with pleasure , like a remembrance, the smell of a woods fire in a fireplace.

  12. Tania says:

    Hi! “Blowin’in the Wind” is known and in my country,too. These frightful and useless wars… I don’t know too many on Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary , well… I have not heard on them.
    Listening to your musical video…their music is very nice, they touch our soul. Thank you.

  13. Øyvor says:

    Dear readers!

    Thank you for this interesting topic!

    Our friend EMMILANO has a very good post, (thanks emmilano),
    he sure has got some wisdom as he writes as he does.

    I would like you to read the book “Pollyanna” by Eleanor B Porter..
    if that little girl hasn`t got wisdom, who has??

    My best regards to all of you!

  14. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you for I enjoy , I calm down with these simple songs for children.
    I know the lyrics from a school book but I have not known the music of the “Rain, rain, go away!”

    Dear Warren, please come again every day!

  15. I saw a funny sentence this morning that illustrates (gives an example of) wisdom: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it
    In a fruit salad.

  16. Mansour (KSA) says:

    When i live in my town (ALshafa) we have had alot of trees but not oak it was a diffrence trees we called it (arar) it’s beauteful
    but we were can’t burn it because it wasn’t benefit for that i remembre my dad say that it smell not good if burn it .

  17. emiliano says:

    I din´t know that the tomato is a fruit, first time I heard it, but I didn´t ever put a tomato in a fruit salad, and I do prepare lot of salads……..
    May be I have some wisdom about salads?..
    Nice, thank you Warren, good news for me, ja, ja…….yes I think so.
    As much as I think in putting a tomato in a fruit salad it seems very odd, but I like tomatos very very much.

    Thanks a million Oyvor, you are really very nice and reading what you said it makes me happy, indeed that´s true
    I´m very happy with the Blog.
    A good idea, I think Pollyanna has to be a very good book as the movie was also amusing and very well made.

  18. Farahnaz says:

    Thank you Warren, the story was very interesting and it had an important point. I think in every work/ job/ life/ everything there is a point/ aim that people want to get it. I agree with the story that we should see the end of (result/ conclusion) the work/ action. When you think that the end of action will be the result which you hope/ anticipate achieving, you will get it.
    Actually when you think positive, the result will be positive, too.
    Good luck,

  19. Elvane - from Brazil says:

    Thank you Warren Ediger for that thoughtful article. That made me think a lot. I asked myself, in these economic tough time, what would i most like to have? and i thought, “a really good job”, but after reading this article, if you asked again the same question i probably say; Wisdom. Wisdom is the most important thing in life that a man should have. Without it we are nothing. God asked king Solomon to make a request for something which he would like to have, he could have decided that plenty of money would be the best thing for him, but instead he asked God for wisdom. He was the wisest of all the kings who ever ruled over the Israelites. Wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired, are not to be compared with wisdom.

    I’m sorry if i had made some mistakes writing this replay, i am learning english for a few months now, i hope i do better in the future.
    Thank you Jeff Mcquilan and Dr. Lucy Tse for the wonderful podcasts. After listening to them for the second time, i immediately became a member and a huge fan of your well done job.

Comments are closed.