Posted by: L1H | May 2, 2008

Wisdom: Tragic or Triumph

After watching the movie, Into the Wild, I went online and looked for more information on Christopher McCandless – the anti-hero of this true story.

I was shocked how divided people are on this young man and what he did (or didn’t do).

Native Alaskans (locals) essentially feel that if any city slicker comes into the wild unprepared, then they get what they deserve. They don’t understand why anyone (especially privileged white boys) would walk away from their life and go tramping around their back yards “searching for themselves”. The romantic notions of Alaska are a complete paradox to the reality of their daily lives up north.

Experienced hunters and survivalists criticize all of Christopher’s mistakes, painting his death as ‘stupid’ and ‘unnecessary’.

Of course the “Super Tramp” McCandless has his supporters. These are mostly college age kids or middle aged men who “get it”. They too feel the call of the wild. They also burn with a deep desire to challenge themselves and chip away at all the BS and get to something real.

I’m going to re-post a brilliant comment made (source unknown) in a thread discussing the life of Christopher McCandless. It’s long, but I believe if you really want +1 to your Wisdom, you gotta work for it!

“I’m a mountain climber. Here’s the lesson I choose to take away from this story – for now

Analogy; When you climb a mountain it’s not enough to “make the summit.” Not good enough to live your dream, it’s not enough to realize your biggest ideals. What I mean is when you get there, you can’t lay down at the top and just enjoy the view. When you’re still young, and inexperienced, all you think about is your ideals -some of us at different points are younger or more dreamy than others, and some even become obsessed with these big ideals for a while. But to do it right, to be complete, to see the trees AS WELL AS the forest, to “finish the job” etc, is to *PLAN* to come back down from the ideal – to balance the ideal with the practical, not to choose one and discard the other.

Getting to the top is not practical, its a dream, an ideal. It gets you exited and it provides a nice view, and as every climber knows, its the easy part. But in and of itself, it’s a useless thing really -especially nowadays- and only half the endeavor. It only means something when you incorporate the experience into the totality of your being. You can only do that if you live long enough to do that. Only then can you call it a lesson and perhaps even pass it on to others. It just doesn’t matter until you can do as much. To die on a summit, or to die in a wilderness without having prepared to the best of ones ability for the practical, the necessary but less romantic ideal of surviving, of returning, is nothing more or less than a failure. Chris McCandless (and some others) failed in that way. Coarse, maybe in the end we all do. And, keep in mind just how young Chris was when he ventured out, when he died.

In my mind though, he doesn’t deserve the harsh ridicule nor the heroic praise that he has often gotten. His death -as sad as it was- was a warning to those with the big ideals, with big dreams about the world and about their place in it: Do what adventuring you must, seek what you need, live your dream, but most importantly, plan and prepare to live, plan to return and teach. Come back down, and put the dream into practice. Life is too precious to throw away – even on an adventure. As strange as it sounds, Im guess Im a little pissed at Chris for not recognizing that much.

A well known mountain guide service near my place has the motto something like “Live your Dreams”. There are 2 parts to this motto, one is the “dreaming” part, but the other is the “living” part. Its really about balance. With every passing moment we leave a legacy of our dreams and our acts. In a way, we always teach by our example. Its not enough that you’re a dreamer, you are -or will be- a teacher as well. Hard to teach when you’re dead, unless your death becomes the lesson.

My point is of coarse not that death is avoidable, I applaud Chris’s dreams and his courage, I condemn his impracticality, beyond that, who am I to judge him?

From some of his last writings, in the last days of his life, it seems that Chris himself realized something along these lines. He wrote something like “happiness is only meaningful when shared”. So maybe he did convey the lesson after all. Its just too damned bad he didn’t live to see it and mature into the complete teacher he likely would have become.”


  1. Good food for thought indeed.

    Who knows if any of our interpretations, even after all these years, are even remotely close to the so-called truth of it.

    …and how far are any of us from just walking away from it all?

  2. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Splasher.

  3. Thanks for the comment Splasher.

    I think the point can point can be made that it’s not enough to dream, it’s equally important to live and share that dream.

    Said in another way, Chris would have served his original purpose (and those who look up to him) of going ‘into the wild’ and challenging himself better if he returned to us from the ‘wild’.

    There is a Japanese word called ‘Sensei’, which you might have heard used in the martial arts. It literally translates to ‘One who has gone before’ – most commonly referred to a revered teacher. This is different from the word ‘Shidoshi’, which just means teacher.

    ‘Going before’ and sharing your insights is the ultimate payoff of a realized dream.

    Just my 2 cents.

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