Monday, November 21, 2011

To be Used with Prudence and Thanksgiving

There was a time in the history of what would be come the United States that it was fashionable to name women, "Prudence," and carry blunderbusses.

During this week, when we celebrate the first-ever tailgate party, it would be good to revive some of those original fashions. While blunderbusses are pretty cool in a seriously retro way, I've been thinking about prudence since I came across the phrase, "to be used with prudence and thanksgiving."

Prudence, according to my 1886 Webster's, is "the state of being prudent: wisdom applied to practice; caution evinced in forethought."

Forethought and, "wisdom applied to practice," speak to the heart of making: carrying out your intent requires forethought, and doing it well comes from applying wisdom to practice.

Some older ideas that are synonymous with prudence are frugality and husbanding one's resources. These ideas hark from a time before machines made basic necessities like food and clothing practically dirt-cheap. It was also the time before machines made the weather largely irrelevant--when the harvest season wasn't a gluttonous celebration of football, but a time to set aside stores in preparation for a winter that might leave you snow-bound and dependent on your prudence for weeks at a time.

But prudence speaks to something beyond good domestic management. Approaching your circumstances with prudence and thanksgiving is the antithesis of the entitlements, great and small, that permeate our culture and society. Gratitude is founded upon acknowledging that you are not entitled to that for which you are grateful: the gift didn't have to be given, the meal didn't have to be prepared, the million and one goods things that make our lives comfortable and convenient didn't have to be provided.

Hunting cultures often have some variation on the tradition of apologizing to the animal spirit, explaining that we kill because of need, and thanking the spirit for giving life to our people. While I'm not suggesting that we should apologize to the lumber before cutting it up, there is an important analogy for makers in that notion: makers understand that to use something for one purpose often means it can't be used for others. That is why forethought and wisdom are essential to making.

Take a moment, as you make meals and make merry during this season of plenty, to think about it from the perspective of a maker. You may be convinced, as I am, that they best way to celebrate is with prudence and thanksgiving.


Image: Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net