The Tools in our Toolbox

I recently finished reading Brene' Brown's book Rising Stong. It is a book that should be read by anyone and everyone.  It was that amazing.  Read it, I promise, you will find insight in her words.

Brown talks in the book about a study in which she asked a plethora of subjects the question, "Do you believe most people are doing the best they can, given the tools they have."  The responses and their correlation to their own feeling of "wholeheartedness" are quite intriguing. Ask yourself the question and see what you answer.  Then read the book. Trust me.

The first time I heard this expression of people functioning the best they can with their tools they have was back in one of my nursing classes.  I remember hearing it and it just stuck. It was one of those expressions that honestly changed the way I looked at people, their reactions, and their behaviors.  When I worked in an ICU, I witnessed a multitude of behaviors and reactions.  Experiencing an ICU setting often tends to bring out the least desirable traits in humans, because of the unexpectedness, tragedy, or finality that often seems to accompany the experience.  I encountered family members that were clueless, unrealistic, angry, resentful... the emotions went on and on.  There was really only two choices I could make. Judge them for their current actions, or acknowledge they were doing the best they could with the tools they were given.

The more I embraced this thought pattern, the less judgement lived in my thoughts.  We like to judge, as humans. Oh... we like it. It makes us feel powerful, superior, BETTER.  When we judge, we make the assumption that everyone was handed the same tool box at birth.  Which frankly, we weren't. The reality is some of us have a huge shop, walls lined with standing tool chests filled with every Snap-On, Dewalt and Craftsman tool known to man.  Some of us have that little wooden toolbox we got as a child, that has a hammer and a screw. 

                                             All of our tools are not the same.

                                             All of our tools are not the same.

Some of us, through education, privilege, luck, and hard work acquire tools as we grow.  Some of us will suffer through addiction, tragedy, loss and abuse, misplacing some tools along the way. 

I firmly believe there is truth is the statement "You can not know, what you do not know." So does this excuse behavior or actions? No. However, if someone has never been giving the proper coping tool to deal with defeat, or a humility tool to accept praise, they simply do not know better.  If someone has never received the tool of accountability or responsibility, can we fault them for feeling a sense of entitlement? 

Sometimes we are offered a tool, and we proudly say "No, No! I don't need that! Thanks anyway." Recently I was offered a tool for one of my children and instantly felt guilt and shame because I obviously have screwed them up before they have reached puberty, and they were going to move out and go find the Fuller House gang to move in with.  When blathering about how I'd messed up as a mother, and Jesse, Joey and Danny were far better parents than I, a couple people, who I respect and love, gently reminded me "This isn't about you. It is about them." Oh yeah...

What I failed to realize is that they weren't really handing the tool to me, but those near me, those who may benefit from the tool: our kids, our students, our spouse.  They may be the one who will actually benefit from the offered tool.  We need to take the tool, and realize it wasn't made exactly like ours, but just ever so slightly different for those it is intended. 

In interactions we encounter, instead of jumping to judgement, what if we actually considered offering a tool we may have of our own? Insight, knowledge, experience or even something as simple as a hug may be the exact tool someone else needs.  When offered a tool, instead of quickly refusing it because we think we don't need it, what if we looked around us to see if it is actually tailored for those little sticky hands we hold?

I was discussing this "tool" concept with my friend Dr. Heather (lesson plans, not stethoscopes) and she told me of a phrase she heard in graduate school: "If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, everything will look like a nail." Wow. Mind blown again.  The ability to acquire different tools allows us to adapt and use the best tool for the job.  A hammer does not effectively work on a screw.  It can be done, but not with any form of finesse or skill. 

As we approach experiences and individuals with this tool concept, it is vital to realize that though you and I may both have a hammer, they may appear differently.  This doesn't not make one better or worse; make one right or wrong.  They are just the tools that work for each of us, and as my dad emphatically yelled, I mean stressed, (after finding pliers, hammers and screwdrivers strewn about the yard) we must respect others tools,  because they are valuable and we have no idea the the cost at which that person attained the tools they have.