12 Rules : Responsibility.

Title photograph : Cathedral peak, high Sierra mountains California.

Physician heal thyself.

A herring should hang by it’s own tail.

Rule 3 :  treat yourself like somebody that you are responsible for.

This is perhaps the most serious post in my ’12 Rules’ series and the one that is the closest to one of Dr Peterson’s own ’12 Rules’ ; his own rule number 2 which starts out with the statement ” Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping”.   My rule i will express simply as ‘be responsible for yourself in all that you do’ , this post will be an expansion of that principle ; first though i’d like to tell a personal story based on Jordan Peterson’s second rule.

Firstly then, a little about me.

As i write today i’m rapidly coming up on my 62nd birthday , this time , last year, i retired from my job as a nurse in the NHS.  I hadn’t planned to retire at 61, rather i intended to continue working part time until i was 65 but at 60 i knew that i was already a bit of a ‘lame duck’ in my department and that even then that i couldn’t do my job properly any more.  For me, the combination of some 40 years in the NHS and my own lifestyle had resulted in long term back pain, one knee replacement , hypertension, other chronic problems and to be honest ; obesity…..in short i was a typically overweight middle aged bloke with a bad back and all the rest.

Around Christmas of 2019 i tried a thought experiment based on Dr Peterson’s second rule, that is that i took the idea that it was for me to take responsibility and care, for my own health, my own problems rather than throwing them at a kindly GP .  I wondered whether it was possible to ‘heal myself’ by radically reducing my body weight and keeping it reduced long term.  Iv’e been there before, several times : in my fifties i did get to a high standard of fitness and a much reduced wieight….but only at the cost of spending 3-4 hours most days back and forth to the gym.   Both earlier in my life and more recently i also tried simple, calorie restriction dieting ; it works for a while but the end result was the same as everyone else reports, in my case that i was heavier after being on a diet.

The outcome of my many hours at the keyboard were that i started on a low carbohydrate (LCHF) diet at the beginning of January, in 8 weeks i’ve lost close to 8 Kg, my back pain and arthritic hand pain have gone , this week i stopped taking my anti-hytertensive medications because my blood pressure had dropped to normal and iv’e been out on the trail every day.

However…..that change only came about because i was prepared to un-learn everything i thought i knew about food, diet and health.  Because i’d been trained that way i knew that saturated fat was bad and that a good diet was one high in healthy grains and cereals ; and this despite really knowing that we’re right in the middle of the worst reduction in overall health in the west : probably in recorded history.  What i had to overcome was only everything i knew….i needed a new paradigm for health.

Every herring……

I write about walking and hiking but mostly now i’m a small boat sailor and i have most of my adventures on the sea : last year for example i sailed my 22 foot center-boarder across the channel at the wide end and spent 3 months cruising around the challenging coastline of western and southern Brittany.   A lot of how i think about the great outdoors comes more from being a sailor than a hiker say, and a lot of the expressions i use come from ‘salty talk’, thus “A herring should hang by it’s own tail“…..a saying i attribute to the late Blondie Haslar RN.

If you don’t know who Blondie Hasler was well he was a major in the Royal Marines during the second world war and it was he who led operation Franckton : you might know of that by a different name ; ‘the cockleshell hero’s’.  The idea was simple, launch a team of 2 man sea-kayaks off the French coast from a submarine and then paddle those kayaks up the mighty Gironde estuary the 90 miles inland to the port of Bordeaux and there mine some German ships. The operation was a success except that only Hasler and his bow-man Bill Sparks survived.   After the war Blondie Hasler was one of the leading figures in long distance solo yacht racing and it is to him that i attribute the sailors saying that every herring should hang by it’s own tail.   The meaning is more obvious to a sailor, simply put that if you’re going to go out there solo and cross an ocean then you must be self reliant and you must not expect outside assistance when things go awry.

The safety paradigm.

It’s my observation that our society lives in a constant state of risk aversion and ‘safety’ consciousness, and that happens from an individual level, through systems levels and right up to whole city and national level.  Take for example the huge proliferation of surveillance cameras that are there ‘for your safety‘, in fact they are nothing of the kind : and then consider how easily ‘health and safety‘ is used by every bureaucratic council dweeb who has ‘concerns’ about some minor ‘safety issue’.  It isn’t just me that sees things this way, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talks about this phenomenon at length and links it strangely to older parents having single children as one definite factor. In relation to what iv’e said so far i get the impression that ‘safety’ is an all encompassing modern paradigm and to challenge it in any way is to be a freak and outlier….dangerous and bad obviously.  As with many of my own generation i find this mildly amusing because we grew up with the genuine existential terror of likely obliteration at the hands of the then Soviet Union : and for me….my best moments in life have been while i was least ‘safe’.

For many today i know that the great outdoors represents a genuine threat to their perceived safety paradigm because so much of it is wild and untamed : no road signs , no ‘safety’ warnings along the side of fast running Dartmoor rivers, no helpful ‘safety’ officers in high-viz jackets pulling you over on the trail to make sure you’re carrying all of the recommended and approved equipment…..sorry….did you think i was joking ?

To go into the great outdoors requires of us, i believe, to be fit and competent , to be self reliant and self responsible whatever our interaction or journey through the outdoors actually is.   Further, i consider it an absolute duty that we ourselves and not others bear the burden of responsibility ….that we do not try and devolve that in any way, nor do we accept ever that any other person, group or authority can take away that responsibility.

As much as anyone i like to just ‘go for a hike’ and always have, in the past hiking whether through the local woods or far afield was my way to escape the dross and dreck of modern life.  Like Thoreau i often went to the woods to ‘live more deliberately’, to be more mindful, to practice self reliance and to be self-responsible : to use a phrase from Dr Peterson, that’s an antidote to the surveillance culture and information overload chaos that is modern life.

In practical terms that’s often expressed by some outdoorsmen as “mindset (attitude), skillset (actual knowledge and task competence) and finally ‘gearset’ ie equipment. Earlier in this series i touched on the basic fitness and skillset of walking off-trail, later on i’m going to talk a lot more about equipment and how that side is useful, even essential but not so nearly essential as mindset (attitude).


Rule no 3 takeaways.

Develop a self reliant mindset for your time in the outdoors.

Be responsible for yourself in the great outdoors and remember that the outdoors doesn’t care who or what you are.

Acquiring the skills and knowledge to be competent out there is your responsibility.

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