Monday, July 6, 2015


“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t,” said Henry Ford, “you’re usually right.”

In a world ever more reliant on so-called "experts", more people might take this gentle exhortation to heart. In Ford’s time, Yankee ingenuity--the ability to make a go of things in even the toughest circumstances--was a point of pride among Americans. But it’s a rapidly vanishing American trait. 

Oh, no—a dripping faucet. I'll have to call
an expert!
Granted, things have changed since Ford’s time. We’re no longer so easily pigeonholed by occupation--the butcher, the baker, the Model T maker. And perhaps because our own jobs are becoming ever more specialized and esoteric, many of us have come to believe we’re incapable of doing even relatively simple domestic repairs without the help of some kind of expert. This is especially ironic in view of the fact that, thanks to the Internet, it’s never been easier to get the information that can help us help ourselves. 

In these technologically complex times, you’d think we’d take comfort from the fact that, while we may not be able to repair our own computer, at least we can still be self-sufficient in simple things--replacing a door hinge, repairing a fence, or changing a furnace filter. But the opposite seems to be true. 

Oh, no, how on earth do I get rid of this stuff?
I'll have to call an expert!
Take that perennial domestic bane, the leaky faucet. Today, many people’s first reaction to that drip, drip, dripping is not to spend a few minutes online sussing out what the problem might be, but rather to reach for the phone book and call a plumber. Never mind that the parts for a do-it-yourself faucet repair might run you a couple of dollars, versus the hundred or so a plumber would charge. 

While everyone deserves to make living, it’s just as well to reserve an expert for problems that actually require some professional knowledge. And it’s not just dripping faucets and other modest do-it-yourself repair tasks that American have come to shun. Even simpler jobs are now being handed over to so-called experts. 

Some folks are too busy
 to learn how to fix a faucet
or get rid of some garbage,
 yet still have the time to
waste their energy
on this thing.
An acquaintance of mine recently hired a company billing itself as a “junk removal specialist”—a niche business that could only prosper in material-mad America. The project that required their expertise was disassembling a child’s jungle gym and hauling it away. This same acquaintance, mind you, also pays for membership in a pricey health club, where instead of using his energy to accomplish something useful--like taking down that jungle gym--he instead pays for the privelege of squandering it on a treadmill. Nowaday, it seems, we even need experts to tell us how to waste our effort.

I’m not sure just what is sapping our store of Yankee ingenuity. Maybe it’s the usual fear of having to learn something new. More likely, though, it’s just the laziness that grows from being used to paying one’s way out of problems. If so, America's shrinking middle class incomes should be a great incentive to relearn the grand old Yankee trait of self sufficiency. There’s nothing to lose by trying—in fact, there’s not even much to lose by failing. To follow another Henry Ford quote:

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

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