Wolf’s Theorem: Show Up, Work Hard, Let Go

By Stuart J. Whitley | Bio

I’ve been writing about the ethic of aging, which is an internal imperative obligating the transmission of values, ethics and wisdom from one generation to another. Usually, this is a phenomenon that occurs unconsciously, in a way nearly invisible against the tapestry of quotidian life. But now and then, it’s rendered explicit, often in surprisingly casual ways.

An old friend Wolf and I were in a hunting camp one brilliant fall day this September, each of us with our new son-in-law. It was a spot of extraordinary beauty, near the confluence of the Stewart and Yukon Rivers. It was about as close to nowhere as one can get without a GPS fix. It had been a glorious full day, and sitting on the high riverbank at sunset, scotch in hand, it was hard not to think that when God decided to put His hand to world-building and started to assemble his elemental building blocks, the place where he experimented with texture, colour, contrast and sound was near here.

I can’t recall how the subject arose among the four of us, but Wolf opined that there were really just 3 simple rules for good living. That spring, as the retired principal for a school where he’d served for many years, he’d been asked to address the graduating class. Being a thoughtful man, he’d considered carefully what pithy advice he could share with young people on the threshold of their lives, and he came up with an equilateral triangle of accumulated wisdom. Three short, simple rules.

As the setting sun briefly set aflame the golden poplars on the other side of the river, then dimmed, Wolf set out his first rule: show up. Woody Allen had it right, he said—80% of success is simply showing up. If you make a commitment, be there. If you promise something, do it. That’s how we bring the future into being.

The second rule was: work hard. The old chestnut has it right—you get from something what you put into it. There are no shortcuts, and if you skip the math, the answer will invariably be wrong. As my father used to say, “Good enough usually isn’t.”

And the last rule was: let go. There are so many hurts and slights and perceived wrongs during the course of a lifetime that, like barnacles on a ship, they can accumulate to the point where the vessel is seriously off course. To illustrate, Wolf referred us to the last scene in Romeo & Juliet where the Prince, surveying the carnage caused by warring families who would not let go of their view of righteousness and abandon their tragic feud, remarked:

"Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montague!

See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,

That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.

And I for winking at your discords too

Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d."

This Bard-in-the-bush recital illustrated profoundly for us how the inability to resolve or get beyond past issues leads to unintended consequences, far worse than anything planned or imagined. 

These rules, taken together, will ensure a good life if properly observed.

This started me thinking. I think there are 3 simple rules for good thinking, and 3 equally pithy rules for good temperament. More on that in my next post.

© 2009 Stuart J. Whitley. All rights reserved.