i don’t know about you, but i have a few drawers that are less than tidy. one of them is frequently accessed by both me and anyone else who happens to use my kitchen. in it are measuring cups and spatulas, birthday candles and can openers, matches, and a cork screw or two. of late this drawer has been giving me trouble. not only has it become so full that i can’t easily find what i am looking for, but it has also been failing to close properly. frustrated, i recently shoved my hand deeply into the drawer and wiggled everything about, hoping this would lead to an easy closure. it did not. i pushed and redistributed things and, still, it would not shut.
once the drawer was removed, it was immediately clear why it had not been closing. all manner of things had been jostled out of the drawer and come to live in the tracks that facilitate opening and closing. chopsticks, baggies, a grocery list, and even a dishrag had been tossed off victims of my overstuffing. in a hurry, i removed the obstacles and replaced the drawer to an even greater gap in its ability to close. knowing my intense impatience and lack of detailed attention for tasks such as these, my husband came to my aid. using his trusted headlamp and light hearted patience he found, and removed, a ridiculous number of items my overly quick excavation had missed. there, among the second dishrag, a book of matches, a kitchen tool i do not know the use for, and several wrapped straws, he found my almost new, fancy, silicone coated tongs.
these were the exact tongs i had been looking for just a few days before when i, who have spent the last 22 years not eating meat, had decided to serve chicken to dinner guests. figuring chicken couldn’t be all that difficult to prepare, i dove right in, doing no research on what type of pan, heat, or tools to use. it didn’t take long to realize i had the heat far too hot and i had not planned how to flip the large breasts. in digging through my disheveled drawer to find the tongs, i let the chicken cook far too long and resorted to what i could grab to flip it. as a result i seriously ruined the meat and deeply scarred the skillet by using a tool that didn’t fit the cookware. had i simply been prepared for this new-to-me task i could have avoided both results.
this feels like a perfect metaphor for life.
many communities of which i am a part are currently trying to tackle all sorts of relational, cognitive (thinking), and affective (feeling) tasks. they are trying to sort out policy, of sorts, and also guidelines by which individual and communal relationships can thrive. it seems that a startling number of these tasks center around how people might come to understand, work through, and eventually overcome the ways in which power differentials, history, privilege, economics, and more divide us in order to create communities where all people are loved and cared for in ways that respect and honor them. this is no small task.
we all operate with the tools we have available to us. these tools have been gathered, developed, and amassed over the course of our lives. some, we were given by our families of origin. some of these may have been replaced with different models that are more in keeping with the advances that time has offered or are more suited for our current needs. some tools have been tossed in our drawers or boxes simply because we attained them and figured they were worth keeping. for many of us there are tools in our possession that we aren’t even sure the origin of. they simply have come to be part of our collection. similarly, there are tools we know that we have, somewhere, but we have not kept good track of them or practiced their effective use. finally, there are some things that have simply fallen out of the drawer but that still impact our day to day living.
when we encounter a task of any kind we either deliberately search to find the tool that we need and choose to use it or we react unconsciously, grabbing at the first passable gadget. some times we have the time and energy (and the setting allows) us to do the work of tool selection with care and intention. at other times, however, we are rushed or reactive or clueless so we just grab and go. that was what happened with the chicken. i was a novice, the heat was too hot, and i didn’t gather my tools before they were needed. as a result, i made a mess out of the food and it’s container. because i’d been avoiding the mess in my tool drawer i didn’t have access to what i needed when i needed it. in compensating, i made some grievous errors.
we do this with people all the time. consciously or unconsciously we grab our communication and relational skills and go to cooking up connection. if we feel uncertain or inexperienced with the tools we have we might avoid relational encounters or tend to place ourselves in well curated situations that we feel confident about. this often means planting ourselves deeply in the center of a homogenous community. if we are “creative cooks,” willing to take relational risks with “ingredients, recipes,” and tools that are new to us, we might move among more diversity where a variety of relational and communication tools are helpful.
just like cooking, the art of relating is complex business unless we want to limit ourselves to a diet of the same meal, prepared in the same manner every single day. it takes training/exposure to information, guts, resilience, and a certain ability to take ones’ self lightly to try a new recipe or technique in the kitchen. it takes the same set of tools/skills to create a relational reality that is balanced and free of myopic, evaluative (“i’m right and they are wrong”), and polarizing separateness.
each of us has a set of tools that we employ in relating to the people we encounter every day. how have we cared for these tools? have we kept them with intention and because they make sense for us to keep or do we keep them because they are familiar and known? has the passage of time, the amassing of wisdom, or the progress of maturation developed a tool that might actually work more effectively for the task at hand? do you even know what is in your relational toolkit drawer and are all tools accounted for? have some fallen out due to lack of use, order, or care?
i believe that every person on the planet, if they are introspective, reflective, and honest, has left at least one encounter in life feeling either invisible or irrelevant. like the heat and tools i exposed my chicken and cookware too, we have all been met with communication and relational tools that do not take us into account. on the flip side, every person on the planet, if they are introspective, reflective, and honest, has likely contributed to some one else feeling the exact same sense of invisibility and or irrelevance. we all relate to eachother out of bias’, experiences, world views, values, and even wishes that have built up over time and been stored for later use. sometimes this use ends up being completely inappropriate or ill advised for the task at hand.
the internal drawers where we hold our tools are our “selves.” this is the seat from which we act (use harshly scuffed metal tongs) when confronted with situations we are unfamiliar with (meat and a new pan). so often, we act in ways that have mostly to do with our tools and very little to do with the form upon which our tools are working. we grew up in a homogenous context so we feel most comfortable with sameness or we were parented or taught by a strict authoritarian so we perpetuate the tendency to see the world as black or white or we react against this and see only grey. we’ve been surrounded by values that become assimilated as tools or necessities and we haven’t taken the time to consider and evaluate them in years and years.
there are so many ways in which we act as though the existence of our hammer makes everything we see seem like nails. where our tools pertain to the way in which we interact in relationships, this is a costly assumption.
the moral of my story is this: i have chosen a meatless life style. over the years my set of tried and true, readily available kitchen tools has come to reflect this choice. i have also chosen to have a home wherein others feel welcomed which sometimes means my dietary choices need to flex and i will want to cook meat. knowing how to prepare tofu does not equal knowing how to prepare chicken. without me becoming consciously aware of this, doing some work to prep, and undertaking the task with deliberate care i will likely experience a substandard result, ruining the food and having nothing to serve my guests. if i make this about the meat, and not about my part in misusing heat and tools and more, i have failed.
it is time for me (and for all of us, perhaps) to take stock of my tools and to organize my drawers. it is time for me to think ahead and prepare myself for the specific needs of the recipes i undertake. the tools i have already gathered may not be the best, and are certainly not the only, tools available. my own experience may not be enough to prepare me for a task and my attempts might be impacted by losing track of important tools (empathy, recognition of shared humanity, love, Love), misuse of heat (tending toward too much conflict or none at all), or underprepared (tofu is not chicken).
may i, today, operate with intention and care. treating others as the unique and worthy-of-respect humans that they are. may i keep my tools ready and available and diverse, my “self” internally organized enough to be able to find what i need when i need it. may i discern appropriate temperatures for each interpersonal interaction (more on this in the coming days), and may i, most of all, see people as people and not nails.