Indebtedness: The #1 Soft Skill Missing in the Self-Reliance Community

by Todd Walker

Indebtedness: The #1 Soft Skill Missing in the Self-Reliance Community ~

The notion that one can begin anything at all from scratch, free from the past, or unindebted to others, could not conceivably be more wrong. ~ Karl Popper

Pride often raises its ugly head, and, in doing so, becomes an easy target. I’ve not met many folks immune to this affliction. The few I have met could easily toot their own horn but don’t… which is exactly why they are a dying bred in the outdoor community.

One of these rare men, Steve Watts, departed this world way too soon. I’ll never forget his comment on the hands-free ax sling I made after reading the article he and David Wescott wrote for American Frontiersman. I had credited him and David with the idea. Without hesitation, Steve quickly corrected me and told me the idea wasn’t original to them and cited their source.

That, my friends, is the way it’s done!

Tim Smith of Jack Mountain Bushcraft wrote a blog in July of this year and quoted his friend’s wisdom, “noisy rivers never run deep.” Addressing the depth of knowledge and experience of promoted “experts”, Tim makes a compelling case for carefully choosing who we get our information from. A lot of info being taught today is loud and shallow… and regurgitated dangerously.

If we are reluctant to rationally criticize this troubling trend, then we are partly responsible for our community’s decline. This is not a rant. It’s more of a self-assessment and an “if the boot fits, wear it” thing. I’ll admit that I’ve worn that boot before and got blistered. My purpose here is to not belittle but to highlight our need for integrity, authenticity, and crediting mentors and sources.

Humility is the prerequisite for learning. It is more important to learn than to cling to egos.

My friend Chris Noble (who has challenged more than one of my past articles – thankfully), outlined the 3 stages of knowledge for us here

  1. Ignorance
  2. Arrogance
  3. Enlightenment

The danger of staying in the second stage (Arrogance) is we know the absolute best way of Doing the Stuff. We stop listening. We stop learning. At this stage, contempt towards others who are “Doing the Stuff” differently surfaces… viciously at times by gurus and their fans. If we buy into pet theories or petty arrogance, our skills and knowledge will continue to cycle from Arrogance back to Ignorance which puts wisdom (Enlightenment) out of reach.

It’s necessary to admit that our present skills are inadequate for all situations. That’s the easy part for those new to this stuff. The trouble comes when we develop a level of proficiency in a skill. Our human-ness tends to inflate our ego with only partial knowledge of the subject. In stage 2, we are unteachable.

Here’s an example of being teachable…

I just returned from our Georgia Bushcraft Fall campout. We had two full days of instruction in a wide variety of skills from falconry to debris shelter construction. One of our instructors, Stephan Fowler of Fowler Blades, a top-shelf blade-smith, can beat a piece of steel into submission like no other. He makes his living with fire and hammers. However, he had never created fire with primitive methods.

No one person has enough time and resources to develop expertise in every skill. Stephan walks over to our impromptu friction fire circle, craved his first bow and drill set from scratch, and proceeded to make his first primal fire by friction.

Indebtedness: The #1 Soft Skill Missing in the Self-Reliance Community ~

Stephan Fowler in beast mode!

I, on the other hand, have never hammered a piece of steel into a functional blade. I’m at stage 1 – Ignorance. I know just enough to be dangerous in my experience. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being in stage 1 in any skill. Again, we can’t master every skill.

In my experience online, and, to a lesser degree, in real-life, there is an alarming number of folks content to stay in stage 2. Here’s a quick remedy. Spend face-time with folks learning and sharing skills. It’s hard to hide behind the internet curtain when our buddies are watching in real-time. Accountability is good for all involved.

Indebtedness: The #1 Soft Skill Missing in the Self-Reliance Community ~

Mark DeJong (Off Grid Medic) and JT giving the fire saw a go

Indebtedness: The #1 Soft Skill Missing in the Self-Reliance Community ~

A first for Dave Williams… hand drill fire success!

Indebtedness: The #1 Soft Skill Missing in the Self-Reliance Community ~

Jason Chapman sharing his wealth of modern and primitive trapping knowledge

I had the pleasure of finally meeting my online friend, James Gibson, at our recent Georgia Bushcraft campout. He drove down with Ex Umbra who taught several classes. James wasn’t scheduled to teach but I learned a lot from him by just hanging out and talking. The hallmark of a great teacher is not that he/she has all the answers, but in how they make you interested in finding answers they may not have.

Indebtedness: The #1 Soft Skill Missing in the Self-Reliance Community ~

The debris shelter class led by Ex Umbra sporting a kilt (far left)

In the context of indebtedness, our community needs to give serious attention to the soft skills (internal/behavioral) of integrity, authenticity, and crediting original sources of knowledge.

You may not be familiar with some of the top people in the field of survival, bushcraft, primitive technology, and/or outdoor self-reliance. This is not because they don’t have expertise in their craft, they just never reached celebrity status on a TV show or the prerequisite social media numbers to be noticed by the masses. The thing is… they don’t seem to be too concerned with our modern standard of success. Enlightenment will do that for you.

I am forever indebted to master teachers and novice practitioners alike for exposing the infinity of my ignorance.

Below are a few of my trusted Georgia resources I am personally indebted to on my journey of self-reliance:

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

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Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.


Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Indebtedness: The #1 Soft Skill Missing in the Self-Reliance Community

  1. C

    Isaac Newton once said: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We all do.


    • Indeed! I couldn’t remember who said that… Thanks!


      • c

        We do indeed all stand on the shoulders of giants. We are all products of this process. Even if we don’t like everything our ancestors did, we gain the benefit of their experience passed down through the great gifts of stories(history), art, writing, math, and technologies.

        On the Day of Dead (November 1st) it seems a suitable time to thank our ancestors for passing down their great gifts that have made our society and civilization a wonder.


  2. Parker

    Really nice read Todd. Enjoyed.


  3. Mark Webb

    It sure is nice to read something on a prepper site that is thoughtful, reflective and NOT egotistical. THANKS Todd.


  4. Outstanding article Todd! I have had the pleasure of walking in the woods with James a couple times in a non-teaching setting and you are absolutely right about him. He teaches without even trying and makes you WANT to learn. Thanks for a great read!


    • Sure appreciate you stopping by, buddy! And thank you. James is a one of kind, old school, humble, knowledgeable, and legitimate woodsman and friend! We’re fortunate to have men like this in our lives.


  5. Stacy D Aaron

    Well said, brother… Well said.


  6. I agree with you completely. Thank-you for writing about a topic that is so important yet, seldom discussed.
    I would rather be surrounded by a small circle of folks willing to share their wisdom than a crowd of “experts” peddling knowledge. Knowledge has become so easy to come by in this internet driven world. Wisdom still only comes through time and dedication to craft.
    I always enjoy all your posts. Keep up the great work my friend.


    • Many thanks, Dan! You’re right about the time and experience factor. It takes thousands of hours to develop expertise in an area. That’s why it was not easy to get away with bullshit back before social media and internet. The people I camped and hung out with would call you out on claims they knew you had no right to.

      Hope you and Brenda are enjoying whatever spot of earth y’all are on now. Give her and the fur babies big hugs, bud!


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