Hammers and Nails: The Loss of Thoughtful Thinkers

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham Maslow

I have heard that phrase used countless times, as I am sure you have too. Coined by Abraham Maslow,  an American psychologist in the 1960’s, the general idea is that we are all creatures of habit, specifically in our approach to most of life if not checked. We will tend to utilize what we are familiar with rather than use the possibly more difficult but more importantly, more proper tool.

Hammers Everywhere

For example, let’s say your car is making some strange noises when you are driving. Instead of going to a local mechanic, you bring your car to a transmission specialist. Maslow’s hammer would say that since he is a transmission specialist it’s more likely that you will walk out with a new transmission. This is because it’s what he is familiar with rather than him possibly looking for the real issue which might only be a serpentine belt (much cheaper than a new transmission!)

Car examples aside, this ideology is prevalent in our culture. We see it play out on TV and in conversations almost daily – you may have even been subject to it. Often perspectives can become our “hammers” and every other theory and/or person just a bunch of “nails” that need pounding. The chaotic mess of our political state is a great example of this. Most of the time people are not actually engaging in discussions as they are “pounding nails”.

The Toolbelt

I think this might be because of one large issue that will continue to plague us if we don’t grapple with it. We have given up being thoughtful thinkers – people who think deeply, carefully, and engage respectfully. We have ventured into public discourse with a hammer and left our tool belt back in the garage.

Every discussion naturally will require an array of tools, just like any good car mechanic knows. If you saw your mechanic go to work on your car with a hammer you would be concerned. Yet, if you took one quick glance at Facebook you would believe otherwise. I think Facebook’s new slogan should be, “Facebook: Where Hammers Collide”.

Thoughtful Thinkers

Thoughtful thinkers know that engaging in a discourse is not just wrestling with an argument or an idea but the whole person. So many times I have seen people write someone off as ‘stupid’ or ‘out of touch’ because of their view and think this was appropriate. Yet, the moment someone suggest the same of them they are hurt – rightly so!

Thoughtful thinkers can be frustrated about how someone can hold a certain position but never lose sight of the person in the mix. I remember one day watching someone talk about their position on a certain issue – one which I disagreed with wholeheartedly! For the first time I remembered thinking, “Wait. They have actually thought about this and believe it’s the best stance on the issue.” It was a moment where I saw the human in the argument- that we were both fighting for what we felt was right. I was quicker to compassion and wanted to understand him more rather than grab the hammer for a nail pounding session.

This type of stance takes practice and time. It is not easy to do when we have become so accustomed to approach it a different way. It takes us being willing to disagree well with someone. To disagree and practice being thoughtful thinker: putting the hammer away. Seeing the person. Thinking deeply and carefully and responding thoughtfully. It may just help you see it’s not nails but just a few screws loose instead.

Greg Smith

Blogging about faith, life, church, and everything in between.


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