Probably the most uniquely American character trait is the ability to figure out how to do stuff without an instruction manual. This goes back to when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, which, by the way, was NOT named after the semi-luxury car, which hadn't yet been invented. In fact the rock hadn't even been around for very long at the time.
Our Founding Fathers had to figure out how to make a country without an instruction manual, too. The end result wasn't always pretty, but it was generally functional. Working with a blank slate can be a pain at times, but one has the remote chance of ending up with something truly unique.
Somewhere between then and now, however, alas...we have become a nation at the mercy of "experts" and "professionals." These are purportedly people who know how to "do stuff" that the average serf doesn't know how to do. We need to consult their sage advice on everything from raising kids to washing our cucumbers.
I teach electronics as the local community college, and I regularly encounter kids who have never previously used a tool. I'm not talking about the odd, pampered Valley Girl that occasionally makes a wrong turn wanders into the class....I'm talking about young college-bound men who are supposedly intentionally working on a career in aviation maintenance. Things that I deem basic human competencies are regarded as rocket science by this future generation...a frightening prospect indeed. Doing stuff just to do stuff is not even on their collective radars.
What is much more distressing, however, isn't merely the lack of basic compentency....that can be taught....with a lot of sheer determination....(my colleagues and I are known for being able to teach electronics to a fire hydrant). The real shocker is their total lack of curiosity about how anything works. Everything in their short lives arrives fully functional and blister packaged. The concept of having to invent something is totally alien. There are some encouraging exceptions of course, but this is the norm.
Sociologists and pundits often (and rightfully) decry the gap between the wealthy and the poor...in economic terms. What I see much more directly is the huge gap between people who know how to do stuff and the people who NEED people who know how to do stuff to do stuff for them. Living on a farm was the great ingenuity equalizer. Everyone knew how to mend a fence, water a hog, and shoot a varmint....of the two-legged or four legged variety. These were basic LIFE SKILLS. Somehow we mangaged to muddle along without professionals looking over our shoulders to make shure we didn't smash our thumb with a hammer....or tell us what a hammer was for in the first place.
Of course, this is a self-propagating malady. People who don't know how to actually do anything are apt to become politicians. Since they have no clue how anything they enjoy actually came to be, they believe they can speak technology....or cucumbers....into existence.
I have a foolproof test for any would-be politician. Hand him a sack of parts from a disassembled lawnmower engine...and see if he can reassemble them into an engine...or something better. If he passes the test, his name can be placed on the ballot.
If he can't, send him to my class. If I can teach electronics to a fire hydrant, I can probably teach a politician how to change some oil.
Causes Eric Nichols Supports
Free Burma Rangers, Partners Ministries (Thailand), Literacy council of Alaska, Access Alaska.