Three-Drawer Tool Box

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This is another in a series of simple views of relationships that I find useful and that I find myself sharing often with people.


I believe that everyone needs a three-drawer tool box.  Each drawer represents different tools or skills needed in life.  Take a look at your troubles and see which drawers are missing  some tools.


DRAWER ONE – Building Tools

These are the tools we all need to build things, to do things, to make things happen and come into being.  Hammers, saws, screwdrivers. Skills to balance checkbooks, use a phone, drive a car, read a map or book, earn a living, wash clothes, pay taxes, etc. 

Sometimes you run into a situation you’ve never dealt with before and need a new tool.  Thus, learning is a special kind of tool in Drawer One.  We learn by watching others use their tools.  We learn by reading books.

Words are tools.  I sometimes think that as I get older, much of my learnings are just discovering the “right” phrase to use, the words that do the job easily.   For instance, when a client calls me on the phone, I am apt to repeat their name and then say, “What’s up?”   I learned that tool from listening to Car Talk on public radio.  That phrase “fits my hand” very nicely. 

If you live alone on a desert island, you need tools of building a shelter, fishing, making fire, mending clothes, etc.


DRAWER TWO – Mistake Tools

A carpenter friend told me about this drawer.  He said, “For every 10 times I build something, a couple of times I screw it up, have to take it apart and build it again.  I have a second drawer of tools to tear my mistakes apart, so that I can rebuild.”   A crowbar is a nice example of this kind of tool.  These are often heavy tools. 

This drawer has all those tools and skills for dealing with mistakes.  Everyone needs these, because everyone makes mistakes.

If this drawer is empty, then you have difficulty recognizing errors, and fixing them.  If this drawer is empty, you “do the same thing over and over, expecting different results.”  (They teach this in addiction programs.)

These Drawer Two tools allow you to improve, to learn, to become better.  When I was a kid, there was a motto over the front of the main room at my school that said, “Our Best Today, Better Tomorrow”.   I learned that you can’t do Better Tomorrow without noticing the mistakes in Our Best Today.

Lots of people have very few tools in Drawer Two.  You know these people.  They don’t admit mistakes.  They get angry with the appearance of mistakes in themselves or even in others.  They try to hide their mistakes.  They blame others for their own mistakes.  If the toaster doesn’t work they may smash it.  How silly.

One of the best tools I have in Drawer Two is the phrase, “Everyone makes mistakes,” which I got from Sesame Street.  Another is the phrase, “A mistake is something you do just before you learn to do something better.”   When someone says to me, “You made a mistake!” I am apt to respond by something like, “Well, that is probably the 20th mistake this hour.”  This new mistake just snuggles into my arms with all the others.

My strongest tool is the phrase “No matter what happens, I will either have a ‘nice day’ or learn something.  That’s it.”  A mistake is a learning tool.

If you live alone on a desert island, one of these tools is the phrase, “Oops!”


DRAWER THREE – Relationship Tools – Relational Intelligence

These are the tools or skills you need if you are living peacefully on a desert island, with nice tools in Drawer One and Two, and at that moment you notice someone else swimming to join you.  (My carpenter friend didn’t know about this drawer.  He is single after three divorces and 4 children spread all over the place.)

These are the tools of “getting along” and are the primary topic of my website, essays.  I like to think I have become an expert in Drawer Three tools.

These are the tools you need to deal with disagreement.  These are tools of empathy.  These are the tools of “Truth” and tolerance.  

When you live alone, you don’t need these.  Most people divorce, i.e. move to live alone on a desert island, because they don’t have these tools.  If you plan to live that way, alone, forget about Drawer Three.

The easiest way to learn these tools is to be raised by people who had these tools and showed you how to use them.  If you were raised by people who divorced, you can be pretty sure they didn’t have them and couldn’t teach these skills.   If you were raised by people who lived at the same address, but acted as if they were on different desert islands, they probably couldn’t teach you either.  No blaming.  My parents did their best, but their best was a poor job with Drawer Three tools.  They didn’t have many tools to teach.

I didn’t find this out for a long time at least partially because I didn’t have many Drawer Two tools either.  I had a hard time admitting my mistakes.  I had to get divorced myself, I had to start having the same troubles in my second marriage before I would admit that I had poor relationship skills – admit that I was making lots of mistakes. 

Then, too, I had a challenge in learning Drawer Three tools because so few  around me knew these skills.  There were very few teachers.  They were making lots and lots of mistakes.  I had to become a teacher so that I could learn – or vice versa.   I had to become expert at things which my parents didn’t even know existed.  Twas a long journey. 

What is your path!? 

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