Throughout the course of our lives, we often hear contradictory statements. Sometimes we hear “Only a poor man blames the tools,” while others claim that the tools make the man. A famous Japanese samurai taught that a man’s tools should be minimal and practical, with the explicit, focused purpose to achieve his immediate and long-term tasks. Emphasis was also placed on how well one kept or maintained his tools. Today, we explore the question “Is a man only as good as his tools?”
my childhood was riddled with moments of curiosity and I wound up getting involved in more than my fair share of shenanigans. Add to this the fact that I had an older brother who was just one year my senior, and we had the perfect recipe for years of Tom-foolery.
During my isolated times—and there were many—I had to find other ways to entertain myself and satisfy my curiosity. There were often things lying about of which I could tinker with, working and broken, so I did play around with them and was mostly curious about how I could fix things so that I could actually use them.
Among some of these items were lawnmowers, black-and-white TVs, doors, toys, odd electronics, cassettes, compact discs and CD players, headphones, Atari and Nintendo systems, radios, stereos (one was an old-fashioned, floor console), and a lot more that I have forgotten.
I actually haven’t thought about this specific part of my childhood in many years. Thinking about it now actually feels a bit sad for various reasons. Two of the reasons are 1) lack of support and encouragement for my tinkering, and 2) lack of any truly useful tools.
By tinkering alone, one can learn much from the experience that is invaluable and helps to create a sort of foundation or basis of understanding about what is being examined. Sometimes, I would (accidentally) break or ruin something which, while frustrating, helped me to see just how something SHOULD come apart or be disassembled—or that it was never meant to be disassembled in the first place, which was a difficult reality for me to accept (and still is). I learned from an early age that, for many products, they just aren’t worth fixing in the eyes of the manufacturer and customers wouldn’t foot the bill to have them fixed, so they were just made “as is,” with no thought given to a young boy’s desire to fix them and give them a second chance.
Now, for most repairs and especially for unique products and devices—some of which weren’t really meant or expected to be fixed—tools are recommended, if not necessary. While it’s true that I often raided the tools that my dad actually had, most of the time the kinds of tools he had were just not the right type or size I needed. As a result, I often resorted to using anything that looked as if it could get the job done—even if it wasn’t a tool at all, or wasn’t meant to be used in that particular way.
This often led to me breaking more things than I should have, as well as cutting my poor fingers, jabbing my hands, scratching my arms—you name it, I hurt it. In short, if my dad had dropped a couple hundred bucks and some learning manuals for the things I was working on, I would’ve not only been in heaven but I would’ve been much more productive, not to mention using less band-aids.
During my early adulthood, I bought my first house and after I settled in, I eventually made some plans to update and improve it. This would take a variety of tools of course, but again I found myself truly lacking in the “right” tools for the job, making my tasks both difficult to figure out and near-impossible to pull off. As a young, married man with an already-troubled relationship and a precious daughter to care for, balancing all of this with the inability to purchase better tools was just too much, so my remodeling aspirations stalled in the middle of the work.
The result was that we lived in the middle of several half-done projects.
Now, as we fast-forward to the present day, I have thousands of cabinets under my belt, as well as short films and even a full-length feature film made with Chinese English students (I’m a bit eclectic), as well as some other things. There are a couple of main points that I can attest to as truth—at least, in my opinion.
My entire life, I have both been victim and witness to the pain of wrong tools or the lack thereof. Anyone who says that “Only a poor man blames the tools” lacks the kind of large-scale thinking required to consider reality. While it is indeed true that we can oft find a creative, alternative solution to a sudden dilemma without the customary tools in-hand, it is nonsense to believe that it is always the fault of the user and not the tools themselves. We absolutely cannot manufacture an entire Lamborghini with one cordless impact wrench, can we? We have to be more realistic than that.
The flip side to this is that by failing to procure or search out the right tools, whether borrowed or bought, one is essentially “blaming the tools” while being personally incapable of seeing or accepting the blame for the failure. In this light, the phrase makes sense. However, out of all the times I’ve heard this expression, it has never been used in that context.
How many people have you met who wore and held all of the latest, greatest, and most expensive gear, but couldn’t use any of it to save their lives? I’ve met more than I care to count. The truth is that while having tools is great and having the right or best tools is freaking awesome, if you put said tools in the hands of incompetent, inexperienced, or careless people, then it won’t really matter much. It reminds me of another story from when I was a kid. Bear with me.
I was a big athlete growing up, in addition to being an artist, writer, tinkerer, and more. Most of the time, I never had specialty gear that all of the other kids seemed to have copies of. Things like batting gloves or cleats for baseball, good high-tops for basketball—there is a long list.
I remember slipping and sliding all around the basketball court in shoes that had lost their grip a long time before. I remember even wearing my coach’s old shoes for a time, which were also smooth and too big for me. I remember finding a batting glove once on a baseball field and being so happy about it that I used it for years—even after it had holes in it. In short, tools don’t make the man–they make the man stronger.
So how did all of this affect my performance? Well, a friend—the son of one of my baseball coaches—showed me my batting average and told me that his dad talked about me all the time (my average at the time was .798, if you can believe that). I was the best baseball and basketball player in my high school during my junior and senior year—no one was even close. I was even offered a scholarship to play basketball at a small university. Watching Michael Jordan inspired me so much that I did extra jumping and shooting exercises during my free time and during the summer. In less than a year, I’d increased my jump enough to dunk the ball, despite not having a hand that could palm a basketball.
The point is that I not only persevered in the absence of equipment, I actually excelled. However, if I had been given the tools I needed to be my best, then I would’ve undoubtedly performed even better. In spite of that, I did seek out alternative ways to increase my performance in such a way that it caused me to easily surpass my classmates in every sport our school had. I was the best there, and I knew it because I made it happen.
So, as you see, the right combination of man AND tool is a force to be reckoned with and, though I do indeed put more weight into the man himself, the importance of the right tools or enhancing accessories cannot be simply tossed to the side. Carefully consider your own knowledge, skill level, and desired results, and then make the calculated effort to both increase your competence while doing it with the best tools possible for the job.
If you do this, you will win more often than not.