Thursday, March 23, 2017

watch your head

You’ve heard it, often. “Watch your head.” Someone is caring, urging caution to protect you from injury or pain. Parents say it to children, spouses to each other, friends and coworkers, too. “Watch your head.” Long ago, as a cheeky wiseguy, I chirped, “You can’t watch your head. Not literally. Your eyes can only do that partially. You can watch your nose, part of it. Oh sure, you can watch a reflection of your head. But that’s different.”

Not that funny then and not that funny now.

Despite the challenges of literally watching your head — and only a fussbudget would notice this — we know what the person who says it means. We understand we are being told to proceed with attentiveness. We are are being warned to slow dowm. Does it work? Does proceeding in such a manner guarantee less chance of injury? I’m not sure. An athlete or warrior in the heat of battle might interpret it to be “Be alert.” But you wouldn’t necessarily slow down. On the other hand, I have personally found the dictum “the faster the slower,” from UCLA basketball great John Wooden, valuable when I am tempted to anger or quick to say the wrong thing.

From another perspective, “watch your head” proffers a different aspect of wisdom. If the phrase is telling us to practice introspection, some rewarding results might be forthcoming. If it means, “as a person thinks, so they will act,” then it’s a good reminder. Recovery programs talk about a “thinking disease,” meaning that addicts and others fall off the beam long before a substance is ingested or otherwise taken. It’s the addictive or alcoholic thinking that precedes the action, they are told. So, “watching one’s head” in that context would presumably signal awareness and vigilance.

In my youth, Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick sang “feed your head” repeatedly with fervor at the conclusion of the hit 1967 single “White Rabbit.” The lyrics were considered one of pop music’s early instances of a drug reference, albeit oblique. But the song is filled with characters from Lewis Carroll’s  “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” and on that level alone it is delightful. I have long admired the Airplane’s unbridled evangelism for expanding one’s mental and spiriual horizons. They put it out there, without apologies. And why not? I’m not belittling the serious risks of the misuse of pharmaceuticals, legal or otherwise, but I salute the song for being consistent and honest and unabashedly provocative.

I am mildly surprised that booksellers or educators haven’t seized on this notion of “feed your head.” Perhaps they have. Granted, feeding and watching your head are two different concepts. (Notice how I’ve drifted slightly. That’s how my mind operates.) But they go hand in hand. If you watch what you are feeding your head you can reap the most benefits. 

Somehow that doesn’t ring true. It signals a cautionary manner that might stifle curiosity. Can these two notions — watch your head and feed your head — coexist within one person? I suspect they can. I’d go so far as to say they must. They represent a dynamic that plays out in all of us: temperance vs. abandon, safety vs. risk, prudence vs. recklessness. So watch your head, but be sure to feed it, too.

Now excuse me as I take my chances out there, bruises and all.

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