A trip to the barn is all we need to keep it real.
Lots has been written about intellectual honesty – the art of thinking critically enough that your convictions match up with reality. It means sorting through facts that can sometimes be distorted by those with an agenda. It means taking off the rose-colored glasses and avoiding unnecessary pessimism. In short, it’s just keepin’ it real.
This weekend, I read about one writer’s search for intellectual honesty … and I recognized someone who would completely understand why we – horse people – do what we do.
Matthew B. Crawford holds a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago. Unable to find a job right out of school, he retreated to a workshop where he began rebuilding an old Honda motorcycle. Although it was a world away from his ivory towers of academia, he found himself both relaxed and energized by the physical work, by the challenge of taking a very concrete problem and finding an equally real solution to it.
And then he landed a job as executive director of a Washington, D.C., think tank – where his work was abstract and not always in line with his personal values. But still, it was a prestigious appointment, and the pay had to have been more than decent. He lasted five months.
Matthew now runs his own small motorcycle-repair business in Richmond, Virginia. In his New York Times essay and in his forthcoming book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work,” he talks about how working with your hands can be good for the soul.
Motorcycles, after all, don’t lie, and to repair them requires complex thinking – reasoning what went wrong, why and determining how best to fix the problem. Especially with the vintage motorcycles Matthew works on, there isn’t a prescribed course of action. Instead, judgment and experience come into play as much as anything. At the end of each day, Matthew finds joy in seeing the tangible results of his efforts – the repaired bikes that vrroom out of his shop with happy customers aboard.
So how does that relate to us horse people? See if any of this sounds familiar:
“Good diagnosis requires attentiveness to the machine, almost a conversation with it … Cognitive psychologists speak of ‘metacognition,’ which is the activity of stepping back and thinking about your own thinking. It is what you do when you stop for a moment in your pursuit of a solution, and wonder whether your understanding of the problem is adequate.”
For us, we do have conversations with our horses, a give and take. “Does this work?” “No? OK, how about that?” And if we’re worth our salt as horse people, we’re always asking ourselves if we fully understand the issues we’re dealing with.
So my horse bucks? Am I sure it isn’t a physical problem? Have I checked the saddle fit? Is it behavioral? Are there patterns of when or where it happens? There’s never a prescribed course of action when it comes to horses, and complex thinking always is called into play.
And the even-better news? It doesn’t matter what we do for a living. Unlike the author of the New York Times article, we don’t even have to have a drastic change of occupation in order to experience this kind of intellectual honesty. All we have to do is step out to the barn.
Editor, America’s Horse magazine
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