Know your Tools

One of the most important of all lessons that one can possibly learn is the importance of knowing one’s tools.

Some tools are easily recognizable as such, e.g., a hammer or a screwdriver.  To know these tools is to be aware of what they are good for, what they can do, what they can help us accomplish.  But my knowledge of a given tool is not exhausted by knowing what it can help me do; I should also be aware of what it cannot help me do.  In other words, to know a hammer I ought to know that it can help me drive a nail in a piece of wood, but also that it will not help me cure my headache or fix a slow computer or write an interesting essay.  To know a tool, then, is to be aware of its capacity as well as its limitations.

There are tools that we do not readily recognize as such, e.g., eyesight, speech, government, law, science, anger, religion, and food.  To think of these and innumerable other things as tools may require a small paradigm shift.

Speech is a tool that can help me accomplish many useful tasks.  However, there are many more situations in life where I try to use speech but do not get the desired results; this experience of frustration should be sign for me, indicating that I have reached the limits of my tool and that I should use a different one.  Science is a great tool that helps me solve many of my problems and meet many of my needs; yet, it has its limitations.  There are questions that I find very important and very urgent, but science does not help me answer those questions.  Anger too can be a tool.  I get some of my needs met by showing how angry I can be, but there are many more needs that I fail to meet by demonstrating my anger.  Religion can make my life wonderful in many ways, but it does not help me in starting my car when the battery has died.  When I am hungry, food is a useful and relevant tool that I may use to fix the problem; when I am depressed, rather than hungry, food ceases to be a useful and relevant tool (though I may continue to think it is).

Knowing the limitations of a tool is often as important as knowing its capacity.  I may insist on using a tool in situations where it does not work.  On the other hand, I may insist on not using a tool in situations where it can, in fact, be very helpful.  In both cases, not knowing the capacity and limitation of my tools will lead to frustration and even failure that I could have avoided by knowing my tools.

We suffer when we either underestimate or overestimate what a particular tool can help us accomplish.

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