Wit-- A Warrior Virtue

by Ed Chapman and Norma Hoffman (as in Oak Leaves Autumn 2006, Issue No. 34)

Wit: quick spontaneous decison-making, the gift of gab, the ability to bullshit, a sharp tongue, a ready bon-mot, the eloquence to talk one’s self out of a situation-- this is a warrior virtue.

Wit is wisdom in running shoes. Wisdom can be a great, but passive, virtue. Wit is what gets wisdom out into the world. Wit allows you to get your thoughts out of your mouth and into your actions in ways that people will pay attention to.

We all need wit to some degree-- at work, at a party, while giving a lecture, or while discussing, arguing, or explaining. Druids love to argue-- um, discuss-- and without wit, our arguments would be pretty dull. Wit is also the ability to make people laugh, and to laugh at one’s self, and in doing so to point out absurdity, inconsistency, and hypocrisy. With wit, our wisdom has a point.

Every Druid should be able to hold his or her own in a conversation about which they know absolutely nothing. (It’s clear, from our experience, that most of us can do this.)

We should be able to speak extemporaneously at every occasion we’re called upon to. We should be able to speak up at town council meetings, and with newspaper and television reporters. We should be able to converse intelligently and reasonably with police officers, and get their respect, even though we’re dressed in funny robes and burning strange things in a large fire in a public park.

Wit is the ability to think, talk, and act quickly, appropriately, engagingly, and entertainingly. We usually need both wisdom and wit to interact with other people on a daily basis, however, we’ve found that wit without wisdom behind it (a.k.a. bullshitting) has carried us through more tough situations in our lives than wisdom without the wit ever has.

Wit is the ability to think on one’s feet, but also the ability to stumble gracefully. Wit will keep you moving, and keep your opponent off balance. Wit will get you out of more dangerous situations than any other warrior skill. Our tai chi teacher, while teaching the defensive applications of martial arts moves, always insisted that “your best weapon is your mouth, and that should be your first choice of weapons.”

Wit takes courage, with an edge of cock-eyed, reckless abandon-- an abandonment to inspiration, to awen. It also takes attention and a bit of focus, and some critical thinking.

Count wit as a warrior virtue; think of Athena and her gift of Metis, the craft of warriors, and the way wily Odysseus ended the siege of Troy and the way he made his way back home-- not so much with his strength, but with his wit.