The most interesting question of the day

So, yesterday, I spent the day going around to my two son’s schools to talk about woodworking at the Great American Teach In. And, for the most part, I had a great time. Talking to seven classes and more than 300 kids about joinery was a blast.

For the most part.

There was this one student. After I had spent the better part of an hour explaining how joinery, glue, nails, screws and dovetails worked, she piped up and asked me, “Why do I need to learn this ‘stuff?'” Only, the word she used was a little stronger.

While this was obviously done for effect, it did leave me wondering what I was bringing to the kids.

I mean, most of them were never going to get involved in woodworking. The only contact that many of them would have with wood would probably be a few chairs, a table or some other pieces of furniture. What the hell was I trying to communicate?

I stammered. I struggled. Then, six hours later, it struck me like a bolt out of the blue.

What does a twelve year old kid know about life?

When I was twelve, my life revolved around the New York Giants, the books I had read and the TV show M*A*S*H*.  I had a few close friends, didn’t particularly care for girls and had yet to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up.   Maybe an astronaut. Maybe a race car driver. Maybe a cop.

Since that time, I have seen so much more. High School. College. Girlfriends. Trips to different cities. Building a resume. Reading books. Watching the Internet grow. Getting married. Playing golf for the first time. My children. And, discovering woodworking, a hobby that I enjoy tremendously.

When I was twelve, I’m sure I knew everything there was to know in the world. I had it all together. If, at that time, I was never exposed to new things, how poor the quality of my life would be. How narrow my focus.

She asked the question not because she was being sassy, but because she had yet to see the world beyond her small sphere of influence. My job yesterday wasn’t to get the kids jacked up about starting to woodwork on their own (although, I am sure that some will be for sure), but it was to show them something else worth seeing in life. To expand their perspectives.

Yeah, it was a challenging question.  But, for sure, my job wasn’t to provide answers. Those will come for those kids later in life.

7 thoughts on “The most interesting question of the day”

  1. That was a really well thought out construction of reason you just explained.

    I, at 12 years old, thought I had just about everything I needed to know figured out.
    But, it wasn’t until later in my life and after contacts with people who gave of themselves (like you for example) before my world started to expand.

    If by any chance, that girl from school is fortunate enough to cross paths with many more generous souls like you, her world will expand exponentially.

    And then my friend, you will have become a very important page in her book of life.

    Well done Tom.

  2. Tom, you are to be commended for taking the time and effort to expose some of the next generation to new ideas and horizons. It’s a damn shame, though, that none of us can ever make our acolytes more receptive to the wisdom which we sometimes so desperately want to share. I learned a long time ago the frustration that comes with the realization that, no matter how good the lesson is that we are trying to impart, if it’s not the right time in the recipient’s life for them to learn that lesson, ultimately the knowledge will be lost on them. The best that we can do is just to get the contents of our brains out there, to metaphorically throw the seeds of our wisdom into the wind, and hope that it will take root somewhere.

  3. Hey Tom!
    Great post yet again! I am fairly new to your blog. In fact, I have only been reading it for the past 3 months. In the short time that I have been listening to the MWA podcast I have learned a lot about woodworking & the MWA in general and all the great things you guys do. What has struck me most about the MWA is the selfless giving from its members. Members like you. The more I read your blog, the more I am impressed.
    After talking to 300 kids you had one vocal naysayer… I would say that was a smashing success! The fact that 300 kids could sit long enough to even listen to what you had to say is an accomplishment! If even 1 kid in that crowd is inspired your job is more than done!
    Keep up the good work!

  4. Gosh, Derek, thanks! It’s great to see this kind of feedback.

    Yeah, that was a fun day. That kid was pretty full of sass, but, hey, some of them are at that age!

    Thanks for reading. We’ll keep the content coming!

  5. I’ll take a chance and answer her. Here goes.

    Why? You don’t. No-one has to learn any craft. We do it (as demonstrated by the enthusiasm and selflessness that led to your presentation) to enrich our lives. Outside of our chosen careers the personal and shared interests we develop help to define us and allow us to enjoy life.

    There are many aspects of avocations that help us and others. We don’t just learn from our mistakes; we grow from them. Learning a craft is not unlike life itself; it is inevitably fraught with trial and error. We then develop the tools (no pun intended) to turn these missteps into rewards and success. The best part of this is that we then get to keep and continue using the tools we’ve acquired. They become our skills and strengths.

    In many ways this mimics the path we followed as children in our families. Then again in schools, sports or other interests. We go through this over and over – as young adults developing personal relationships; in college, work, and so on. If we’re living to our potential we are constantly learning and growing.

    We get bored easily as human beings. Creating things can be a very powerful method of satisfying curiosities with regard to our capabilities. To that end, the sense of satisfaction and personal accomplishment realized through doing so is not something that can be easily described. It’s a visceral experience. To compare, it’s like trying to explain to another the love you have for anything or anyone; all that really matters is that you do.

    So, to answer her question… You don’t. If you’re lucky, however, you’ll learn other things that you love to do, love to share with others, and can help to live a fulfilling life.

  6. Well said Tom. Not much more to be said, except that maybe some of those young souls also might go out in the world and remember what you said when they’re looking to buy furniture as well and see the myriad of choices in poorly built stuff and start demanding better!

    Okay, maybe I’m stretching 🙂 But one can dream, can’t one?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.