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Keven Moore: In work and in life, the wisdom gained is often underrated and overlooked

My grandfather Charlie Clemons was a small-time tobacco farmer and, like many in that generation in rural Kentucky, he grew up without running water or electricity just outside Peonia. At a young age, he was kept out of school by his father to help work the farm, thus causing him to live the rest of his life shackled with illiteracy.

Yet, Charlie Clemons was one of the wisest men that I have ever met.  

In my line of work, wisdom is often underrated and overlooked.  When investigating a workplace accident, I am sometimes approached by an old-timer or a seasoned co-worker who will come up to say “I told him not to do it that way” or  “I warned them that they were going to get hurt but they wouldn’t listen to me.”

Charlie Clemons

Good supervisors and managers will recognize the importance of good wisdom from a seasoned employee, while others who think they know it all often fail to recognize the gift that stands before them.

It can be difficult to define the word “Wisdom,” but people generally recognize it when they encounter it. Psychologists pretty much agree it involves an integration of knowledge, experience and deep understanding that incorporates tolerance for the uncertainties of life as well as its ups and downs. They have a sense of awareness of how things are to be played out over time, and it bestows a sense of balance.  Wise people generally share an optimism that life’s problems can be solved, and they experience a certain amount of calmness when facing difficult decisions. 

As a parent of two adult kids and one high-schooler, I have yet to find that calmness when I find myself trying to force my wisdom upon them — because as a parent I don’t want to stand idle and watch them make the same mistakes that I have made over the years.  Since passing the big 5-O, I would love the opportunity to sit down with my grandfather just one more time to absorb his vast knowledge of how that works.

When I think of my grandfather I am quickly reminded of how we would often find him sitting beneath his favorite shade tree just steps from his porch and his tobacco field — enjoying a glass of water and Camel filterless cigarette. While many would use tractors to plow the field, he would still favor harnessing up a horse and leaving his tractor in the barn.   He wasn’t known as the type to outwork you, but instead was the kind of man that would work at a steady pace with plenty of breaks in between.  He didn’t believe in working himself half to death; he would tell me to slow down and enjoy what was in front of me.

He was always quick to give advice and was always telling me about the mistakes that he had made, advising me to stay in school and to go make something of myself and that the world was mine to take. I went on to become the first one in his family to graduate from college.

He once told me that one of the greatest gifts in life that he had ever received was the day the good Lord intervened in an argument that led to a pretty bad fight.  As the fight escalated, he went to his truck for his shotgun and had taken aim to kill the man, but at that moment the hammer on the gun broke. Afterward, he later realized what a gift it was because he would have spent the rest of his life in prison leaving behind a family that was counting on him.

Charlie Clemons wasn’t one with a lot of worldly possessions, but he was proud of the fact that he owned a farm and had always been able to provide for his six children, most of it as a widower.

Despite the fact that he couldn’t read or write, he taught me many lessons, which I am happy to disclose to you today:

Slow down … life is too short to speed your way to the end: When I think of my grandfather I am reminded of his little Chevy Vega and how he would drive it twice as slow as everyone else.   He truly had aversion to speed and was never afraid to stick his arm out the window to wave tailgaters around him while traveling down the highway.    The lesson I got from him was that we all get to choose the speed at which we live our lives, as it is much safer, more enjoyable and less stressful at a slower pace.

Always ride with the windows down: Rarely would my grandfather use the air conditioner in that Ford Vega; instead he always opted to roll down the windows even during the dog days of summer. I never asked why but I would suspect that the wind blowing in his face made him feel alive as he took in all the smells that the countryside had to offer, that always included the smell of fresh hay being cut or the smell of a grove of pine trees or lilac bushes on the side of the road. The lesson he imparted on me was that we should all enjoy life with all our senses, and to take the time to absorb it because it always about the journey.

Find yourself a good co-pilot and trust him or her with your life: When riding with my grandfather into Leitchfield or just down to the country store, I learned very quickly that he would never look right at an intersection. He would instead trust the passenger to his right to warn him of any approaching vehicles on that side of the vehicle.  He would just say “How About It” and wait for the all-clear signal.  If I didn’t answer, he would wait until I finally caught on.

Good advice doesn’t always come with a college degree: Thanks to my grandfather, I have learned that regardless of one’s level of education, stature, position or occupation –the best advice can come from the least likely of persons.  In my profession, I am looked upon to help solve a problem and/or eliminate or reduce risk exposure.  Nevertheless, I have found that the best solutions usually don’t come from my years of education and experience, but instead from the very people working next to the hazard.

All you have to do is be willing to ask – and listen.

Be safe, my friends.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

This column originally appeared at NKyTribune January 20, 2015.

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