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The Fallacy of Discipleship

I can’t stand the G-word.

The E-word isn’t much better.  ‘Expert.’  ‘Guru.’  They get thrown around all the time in this line of work, even deliberately used by some in order to bolster business.

I really can’t stand the ‘guru mentality’.  The idea that I’ve got all the answers and the only way to be privy to those answers is to fall down at my feet.  It’s a load of crap.  Unfortunately, some very well-known skills practitioners use exactly that strategy to make money.  A LOT of money.  (I will admit, it’s a good business practice – keeps people coming back if you’re the only place they can find their answers.  Throw in an ‘end of the world’ prophecy and you’ll make millions.)

Can’t stand it.

If you’ve taken a class with me, you know that I’m an expert at nothing.  A guru of zilch.  Sure, I’ve got some skills.  I’m decent with a bow drill.  I’ve made some baskets.  But I have as much to learn as every student on a course.  I love to share and teach what I’ve studied and practiced over the years and I strive for evenness, equality in my programs.  We’ve all got life experience.  We love being outdoors, learning, and working with our hands.  We’re all humans.

This same theme is what the late William Coperthwaite (subject and author of the book A Handmade Life) calls “The Fallacy of Discipleship” – that discipleship tends toward emulation, worship.  We need to be developing independent thinkers, not followers.  I try to break students of the idea that I’ve got all the answers.

As one who teaches, my goal is to be a ‘teacher’ in the truest sense:  to help facilitate others’ learning and experience, whether I’ve traveled that same path or not.  Paraphrasing Morris Mitchell, one of Coperthwaite’s early influences, John Saltmarsh says that a teacher is

“…not an authority of specialized knowledge, an expert who has all the answers and imparts some construction of ‘truth,’ the teacher is a designer of the learning process, a choreographer of discovery.  Teachers value and respect the unique knowledge that others contribute to the learning experience and foster a mutually shared responsibility among all those involved in producing knowledge and learning.”

At Gone Feral, we take great joy in facilitating learning – in helping interested folks succeed.  This is part of the reason we chose the title ‘Apprenticeship’ for our year-long intensive study program.  We hoped to convey the idea that, with study and practice, ‘Apprentices’ will establish themselves and then surpass their teachers in experience and skill.  It’s about helping forward, not holding back.

Apprentices wanted.  Gurus need not apply.


Interested in primitive skills, bushcraft or wilderness survival?  Check out our online, place-based, independent study program THE PACK.