Maslow, Socrates and Nails

You may be familiar with this quote by psychologist Abraham Maslow (father to many famous ideas regarding the nature of man): “If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.” There is of course criticism in this utterance. Maslow highlights the profound damage caused to our own and others’ lives, as well as our mental cause and effect relationships, by being one dimensional and generic. And that’s all well and good until Adam Robinson took this saying and turned it upside down, opening a whole new page in my mind: “If all you have is a hammer, concern yourself with finding the nails.” Focusing on characteristics that we don’t possess, aspiring to be someone completely outside our personal nature, and spending time/money/effort on this path is one option. The other option is to embrace who we are with all our positive and negative qualities and focusing on what we can accomplish with what we have. Of course what I’m talking about is not abandoning the idea of becoming a better version of ourselves. But to be content with where we are and our choices in general, when being better is not possible or sustainable. Because our expectations and search for family, career, love, friendship, and every relationship is more satisfying when we first know ourselves.

In short, after much meandering the issue comes back to the point Socrates declared almost 2500 years ago: Know thyself. Perhaps you’re a hammer or a wrench or a screwdriver; there is a befitting purpose and a certain problem to be resolved for every one. Perhaps you’re an introvert, or slow, or loquacious . In general we don’t perceive our attributes (before we have declared them as futile or imperfect) to be (in fact) exactly befitting to something in our lives, to fit perfectly for a certain need, or having the potential to being our greatest strength. Whereas, all of us are naturally inclined to do something well, we are all a hammer to a nail.  But societal expectations often remove us from our hammer-selves, or programs us to become unaware of the nails. Whether it’s the educational system or pressures from family/spouse/friends, all of us are forced to become a screwdriver trying to hit a nail in some regard. And we’ve all lived through and are aware of the result: the undeterred feeling of being in the wrong place, at the wrong job, or with the wrong person no matter how much outsiders perceive it as right.

After we’re done reading this, if we find ourselves rebelling against something in life, or complaining about what we do and where we do it, then can we please ask ourselves these two questions: What are the innate tools which I possess? And where are my nails?


PS: The author recommends Özge Samancı’s book entitled Dare To Disappoint to all those searching for their nails.


Translated by Feride Yalav-Heckeroth

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