Nick Offerman: We’ve been taught to never get dirty because it’s beneath us


Nick Offerman’s new book comes out today. It’s his fifth book and it’s called, Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside. Book titles today are longer than the books themselves. The book is a collections of Nick’s thoughts as he wandered around in nature. He went hiking or camping with his wife, Megan Mullally, or just walked around a field and I guess jotted down his thoughts. I kind of dig the concept. I do my best thinking while meandering. Nick, who is a professional woodworker (I didn’t realize that I thought he was a hobbyist), gave an interview to USA to promote the book. He talked about people not knowing how to do things for themselves and choosing not to do things they could. But he says there are reasons for that, like it’s just easier to have someone else do it and because we’ve been taught doing “dirty” tasks is beneath us. But he said those people are missing out on the advantages of self-reliance.

Why we are self-sufficient: People everywhere can now live comfortably without ever owning a socket set, because the consumer paradigm has made it available: There’s an app for everything. If you need somebody to come over and change your lightbulbs, you can do it with a touch of a button. And that nefariously plays on human nature. I as much as the next monkey am like, “Oh, I can either climb this ladder and do it myself or I can press a button and have it done for me?” Of course I’m going to choose the button. It’s having the wherewithal to say, “Hang on guys, I happen to know that button is dangerous.”

Why we don’t get dirty: Among other things, you get dirty changing a tire. And we’ve been taught we should aspire to a life where we never get dirty because it’s beneath us. That’s part of what we’ve been sold, that you deserve to put your feet up and take it easy, so put down your broom and buy a vacuum cleaner. Getting your hands dirty is for laborers and peasants. You should aspire to be a hip-hop star and relax on your yacht while other people are getting their hands dirty. Luckily, I grew up in a family of people who still get their hands dirty, and I grew up understanding that not only is that not beneath me, that’s a super power.

He reflects on the indigenous tribes a lot in his book: It’s something I’ve come around to. … I had a wonderful moment some years ago, my wife’s band was playing at the Sydney Opera House. There was an announcement before the show started that said, “Let’s just take a moment to recognize that this theater is built on the land of this aboriginal tribe and this peninsula was a traditional place of performance and festival. So let’s take a moment of silence and respect for those tribes we displaced, but let’s not forget that that’s how we came to be here tonight.”

And I just thought, boy, that’s a big deal, to simply cop to culpability. That’s all I’m asking for. Nobody should be self-righteous.

[From USA Today]

I mostly agree with Nick. I think the media portrays the rich as looking down on those who do any kind of menial labor. Maybe the uber rich see it that way but the rest of us have other reasons to have someome else do things for us. I’m lousy at cleaning my house. I do it, but I hire someone to come in twice a month and fix everything I miss. She’d back me up, too – I suck. And I call AAA for a tire change because I pay for it already and it’s safer. I know they know what they’re doing and I can wait in my car until they arrive if I am in a questionable area or side of the freeway. However, if Nick’s point is that we *should* all know how to take care of ourselves, then I fully agree. I know how to change a tire. I know how to clean my house (stop laughing Patty). I guess I grew up in a family that got its hands dirty too. I don’t get Nick’s point about the broom vs. the vacuum, though. I don’t see anything nobler in sweeping than vacuuming. I have two dogs and a house that’s wall-to-wall carpet. It would take me a week to sweep all the dog hair out of it.

I included the bit about the indigenous tribes for a couple of reasons. 1) yesterday was Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 2) I love that the Sydney Opera House opened Megan’s show with a moment of reflection on the indigenous people who used to live on the land. Think of the people who could be educated if more venues did that. But 3) I also wanted to show you guys this cool thing. You can text your zip code to this SMS bot developed by Code for Anchorage and find out what indigenous territory you are in. I use it all the time, I love it. I live in Kizh and Tongva land and learning that led me to do research on both. Code for Anchorage said it does not sell or use your info, but if it makes you uncomfortable, you can look up the info on Native Land’s map instead.



Photo credit: Avalon Red and Instagram

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42 Responses to “Nick Offerman: We’ve been taught to never get dirty because it’s beneath us”

  1. OzJennifer says:

    The Acknowlegement of Country is said everywhere in Australia, before performances, meetings and all sorts of public activities. At my school it’s said before school assembly and before staff meetings. It’s a small (but good) thing to do.

    • Nick G says:

      Here too, in Canada. It is said at every service of our (Anglican) church.

    • BeanieBean says:

      It’s au courant in the field of archeology & anthropology as well. Trickier to make it mean something. This is where you really need to create and maintain that relationship with the local tribal community (federal archaeologist here) and ask them what they’d want you to say, if anything.

      • BeanieBean says:

        Sorry for replying to myself! I wanted to add: I get dirty every day! I dig little square holes in the ground, and then I fill them back in. Dig a hole, fill it in. Dig a hole, fill it in. Rinse & repeat as often as necessary. And I went to grad school twice for the privilege of doing that! Plus I wear a shirt with my name on it.
        Oh, I changed a tire all by myself once in my life–took me 45 minutes to do that. Never again; I’d rather pay a professional.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        @ BeanieBean, I too have changed my tire and my car was as big as a boat, I owned a Ford Cougar!!! I grew up knowing how to change a tire, add air, measure pressure and add oil. Though, I was in my 20’s, and I ruined my clothes, work clothes!! But we made certain that our kids could change tires, fill tires, basics. But neither one of them could handle driving a manual. My daughter was useless!! She couldn’t get out of 2nd gear!!! It’s great to get dirty! I love working outside and you get paid for it too!!!

      • BeanieBean says:

        BothSidesNow: It’s the best job ever! Oh, and the car I had that took me 45 minutes to change a tier? It’s my ’58 Belair. Had to use the original jack, too, which scared me silly. Too many horror stories of busted jaws.

  2. Saartjie says:

    I completely get this. I have friends who have houses that are falling apart, and it doesn’t occur to them that they could paint the wall themselves, or figure out how to replace a towel rail. Whereas I get so much satisfaction out of doing these things myself. I don’t know, its just a real kick to be able to shape the physical world around you, and so many people never experience that, seemingly because they just can’t imagine themselves doing so.

    • AnnaC says:

      I started working for a sole practitioner recently; his office window is missing 3 panes and apparently it’s been this way for several months (he pays heat, electric, etc) and landlord is not quick to make repairs. I had some plexiglass and weatherstrip tape at home so did a short term fix so he wasn’t freezing as the weather gets cold. Never even occurred to him to do a DIY $10 fix.

  3. LaUnicaAngelina says:

    Thank you so much for the links with information about indigenous territories! Several of my family in Mexico have a very distinct indigenous look and I have wondered about our ancestry. I’ll be falling into the rabbit hole today after work!

  4. Eurydice says:

    It’s interesting that he would say this because I see so much in the US that’s about DIY – Home Depot, Lowe’s and such, all the DIY videos – not to mention the high cost of hiring expert help. In general, I haven’t seen a stigma here about doing one’s own repairs. Of course, it’s different when it comes to picking one’s own lettuce.

  5. salmonpuff says:

    We recently listened to his book Gumption on a family road trip (my kids are teens, so the colorful language wasn’t an issue for us…not safe for younger kids!) and we loved it. He narrated it, and it was so funny. But it also had a lot of food for thought about self-reliance and hard work and moral courage. He’s a fascinating guy.

  6. fluffy_bunny says:

    My husband bought a multi pack of different deodorants off of the internet and when they came he remarked that one of them smelled like he imagined Nick smells and I told him Nick is sexy and I don’t mind if he smells like him. Looking at the header picture I realize my husband actually looks like Nick except for eye color.

  7. WonderLady says:

    I have a very active toddler girl who loves to get dirty and play in the dirt, and I always tell her when we are washing up “Dirty hands mean you either had a great adventure or you worked really hard. Either way, dirty hands are the best hands! We just gotta rub and scrub them really well!”

    • Southern Fried says:

      WonderLady, Love that. Love that you have and encourage an outdoor kid. Lots of people would be amazed at how many middle school kids in an upper middle class bedroom community have obviously never spent much time around outdoors. Science class field trips can be very revealing.

  8. Merricat says:

    I like this Thoreau-like attitude; self-reliance is great for confidence, and I also find creativity and refreshment in nature. But it’s idealistic in that it assumes everyone is capable of self-reliance, and the more high tech our lives become, the less likely it is that we are able to rely on just ourselves. Hmm. I’m still thinking this over.

  9. iconoclast59 says:

    There’s a real feeling of pride when you do things yourself; it’s great for the ego. I remember installing a dimmer switch for the dining room fixture in my then-apartment. I felt so good about figuring it out and doing it all by myself!

    On an unrelated note, Megan is so young-looking without makeup! She looks great in that photo.

    • antipodean says:

      @iconoclast59, you are so right! There is so much satisfaction to be had from figuring out and executing a physical project. I just recently redid our corroded shower/bath attachments with the help of youtube videos. It didn’t cost much, but it is a major facelift to our old bathroom. I also re-caulked the tub, Mr antipodean was very impressed!
      I also agree that Megan is so gorgeous au naturel. Her skin is to die for, and her good nature seems to shine through. She is such a great actress too. Her Karen on W&G always made me laugh so much. Such a lovely couple.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        They do make a lovely couple @ antipodean!! He was featuring his book on CBS this morning, and he seems like a down to earth guy. He takes the family every year for a two week fishing/camping trip, without fail!! He grew up doing it and now they do it as a family. He is also wood worker/craftsman. He builds his own canoes too!!!

  10. tempest prognosticator says:

    I have a friend who is shocked that I mow my lawn instead of hiring a lawn service. Whenever she asks me why I say, “because I can.”

    • AnnaC says:

      I get the same befuddled look/response and always tell them while I don’t love doing it I love the sense of accomplishment when I look the yard over when it’s done. Also, it’s great exercise! I do my elderly neighbor’s yard too and when I’m done have walked over 3 miles.

  11. Rhar says:

    Land recognitions are becoming more common in the US too. Most meetings I attend start off with a tribal land recognition and include the names of the tribes who were the stewards of our area.

  12. remarks says:

    I get what he’s saying, but my assumption has been that life in the modern world has also increased the number of responsibilities we have (especially if you’re a woman — not sure how it works out for men). I assume that’s why you’d bring someone over to do something — it’s more of a time management technique so that you can finish off some other work-related task. However, I’m speaking as more of a regular middle-class person, not an extremely rich person that has the time to saunter off on a couch somewhere.

    It’s never occurred to me to want to be a hip hop star on a yacht. That said, I do understand what he’s saying overall. Self-reliance is important.

    • Gigi LaMoore says:

      I think he used hip hop star as an example. I also believe that women too can benefit from what he is saying. Every responsibility isn’t necessarily necessary (at least that is what I have found in my own world). Also, the joy and relaxation that comes from making something (cookies, a painting, a craft project, etc.) is good for the soul and worth pushing a responsibility or two off my plate.

  13. Kaykay says:

    I liked this read!

  14. Twin falls says:

    There are lawsuits right now about not being able to repair your own electronic devices without voiding the manufacturer warranty.

    • remarks says:

      This is true. Sometimes you know what’s wrong with your computer or mobile phone, but you can’t fix it yourself because of the stipulations on the warranty and extended warranties.

    • Gigi LaMoore says:

      Well, you don’t have to repair your own electronic devices. There are many other things to choose from.

  15. AJ says:

    I see and understand all the points but…
    I literally can’t afford any services like that and rely on doing things myself because it’s the only option. If I don’t do it myself it’s because I’m time poor from working 2 jobs and that still doesn’t cut it financially. The position comes across a little bit like, “we don’t do things because we opt to pay people to do things for us”
    If I could pay for help I would and it would help more than all my super powers combined.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      @ AJ, I hear you!! I was a divorced mother of 2 little ones, all while working 2 jobs!! I had no support from my ex as he lived out of town, and would see them every six weeks. I was so tired all of the time. Between work, laundry, feeding, bathing, and keeping the house clean, I don’t know how I survived.

      I am sending you virtual hugs and excellent juju!!! I hope that this difficult time passes soon!!

  16. EviesMom says:

    Nick Offerman is a gem. In reference to land acknowledgements – they are often done where I live (in BC) but they are mostly useless unless you follow up with DOING something like economically supporting indigenous businesses, voting for parties who implement truth & reconciliation, paying reparations etc.
    That is all. :)

  17. Christine says:

    I am a Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally superfan, and I’ve read all of his/their books. I cannot wait for he and Megan to hit the comedy club circuit again. If you haven’t seen them, I HIGHLY recommend it. The only downside is I laughed so hard, I had a raging headache the next day, from oxygen deprivation, I guess?

  18. Gigi says:

    I get that the story of the land acknowledgements was cool and all, but everything about Offerman’s image and the books he writes is so deeply rooted in colonialist visions of “grit” and “morals” and the outdoors, I am very surprised that Celebitchy is taking it at face value. And cooing in admiration. It’s straight out of Cooper’s character Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, Davy Crockett, Theodore Roosevelt, and host of other white men who’ve staked their authority and identity on the “great outdoors.”

    • salmonpuff says:

      Well, if you’ve read his stuff, he acknowledges that. He’s a modern, super liberal artist (“Artiste” he says.). He also likes the outdoors and woodworking and fishing. Maybe I’m reading into his work too much, but I think he’s trying to subvert that colonialist and racist idea of the great outdoors. It’s easy to look at the surface and be dismissive, but what he’s doing is the same thing that most environmental organizations are having to do: acknowledge the abhorrent history and build a better future without tossing the good out with the bad.

      • minx says:

        Thank you for that.

      • Christine says:

        Well said, salmonpuff, and I would add, Nick is the epitome of an enlightened man, right down to fully acknowledging his wife is his greatest achievement in life. I think you might be confusing Nick Offerman with Ron Swanson, Gigi. The only things they have in common is a love for nature, Lagavulin, and woodworking.

    • Krystina says:

      First Nations person here. Offerman definitely isn’t Davy Crocket, lol.
      You’re looking for issues that aren’t actually there in this particular story.

  19. Su says:

    My husband is big on DIY and self sufficiency. We grow veggies, have a lot of fruit trees, and we have chickens and quails. We have homemade ketchup, BBQ sauce, pickles, cheese etc. My husband has taught our girls how to make salami, prosciutto and so much more.

    He’s rubbed off on me so much that the first thing I think is, “I wonder if I could just make that myself.” In many cases the answer is “yes”.

  20. MarcelMarcel says:

    Acknowledgement of country are important. It’s also important to note that deaths in custody here is a massive issue, Indigenous children are jailed at 22 times the rate of non indigenous children. Rio Tinto destroyed a sacred site in Eastern Guruma country.
    Adani have driven people bankrupt because Wangan and Jagalingou people are fighting to defend their land. And remote indigenous communities have struggled with water scarcity for years due to government mismanagement of their land.
    That was probably beyond the scope of his book. I (as a white Australian) think that acknowledgement of country is important. I just also think it’s important to contextualise with the violent racism & colonialist structures that impacts Indigenous Australians today.
    Since it hasn’t already been noted the Opera House is on the lands of Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.
    All that said I am a fan of Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally and I’ve been enjoying their podcast.

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