Tuesday, November 26, 2013

making friends with a hick

On the TV last night, a man who seemed to be in his 50's offered a set of studs and cufflinks to be examined and priced on "Antiques Roadshow." The show is a bit like eating potato chips: Individuals bring items of jewelry, statuary, art, firearms or furniture from home and get them assayed. Who knows what anyone might have in his or her attic or basement or hanging on the living room wall? I can munch one item after another as it is put on display ... another time, another perspective, another craftsmanship, another story... munch, munch, munch.

The man who brought in the studs and cufflinks said his father had owned them and worn them. His father "hated being a hick" and the jewelry, when combined on occasion with a tuxedo, lifted him out of a rural, backward tomb to which he felt he was consigned. The set was very valuable: It came from the high-end jeweler Cartier and was laden with precious and delicately implanted jewels. It was a long way from hick-dom.

A "hick" is defined by an Internet dictionary as:
-- an insulting word for a person who has always lived in the country and does not know about life in the cities
-- noun:  not very intelligent or interested in culture
-- adjective:  awkwardly simple and provincial
Is a hick a hick if he knows or thinks he's a hick? It strikes me as unlikely. A hick is narrow in mind and circumstance. But knowing or thinking you're narrow strikes me as wider than simply acting without reflection or hope. Whether a set of cufflinks and studs can actually beat back the discomfort of being a hick is open to question, but still, isn't the awareness a wider road by definition?

The 18th century writer and thinker, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, once wrote that, "[N]othing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man." A lot of human presumptuousness is enfolded in those words and yet there is an element that anyone might feel -- the chasm between the hick and the city slicker -- whether within or without. Isn't it common enough to find a personal version of studs and cufflinks -- something that proposes another way of being, something less burdensome and perhaps narrow? And aren't there plenty of people who might be described as "all saddle and no horse," people whose collections of studs and cufflinks cannot camouflage their lack of substance?

Yeah ... me too.

I guess seeing those studs and cufflinks on TV and hearing the back-story that went with them made me feel a bit mournful for the "hicks" of this world. I'm not interested in ennobling them in some way, but I do think hicks can make a persuasive case, whether within or without. Have you ever noticed that hicks, whatever their difficulties, always seem to be able to do something? They may not know where or what the Prado is and may assume that the Nobel Prize is a new scratch-ticket, but they can cut a straight furrow, build the family house from the ground up, know how to make a rhubarb pie, and display skill and daring when it comes to alligator hunting.

Hicks are do-ers. And while they might find something mundane or less-kool in their accomplishments, still they are accomplishments. Substantive accomplishments... horses on which saddles might be placed.

I think there may be something worthwhile in reconsidering the hick within any person's life. Making friends with this hick establishes a stability not found in studs and cufflinks. Walking, talking, sweeping, shaving ... all pretty mundane when set off against the arts and wisdoms of others and yet aren't these some honest horses in a world that can be littered with glittering saddles? Elevating the one or the other within is not the point. The point is to honor the hick as anyone might honor the city-slicker.

Sure, keep the studs and cufflinks. Travel the world. Speak in tongues if necessary.

But tie your shoes....

And smile.

1 comment:

  1. In other words, Huxley (following Sheldon) wrote about the "somatotonic" personality type associated with the mesomorphic body type. Somatotonics (hicks) tend to be aggressive and domineering, but their path to transcendence is through work.
    If it's true that we're a mixture of three basic types, then honoring the inner hick would be through work, craftsmanship, tying shoes.

    Interestingly, Huxley said that the job of society's institutions (secular and religious) is to keep the somatotonic tendencies in check, lest they'll bulldoze everybody else (that would be, the viscerotonics and the cerebrotonics).