I carry a five gallon bucket filled with hand tools with me whenever I have a job to work on. The contents of the bucket rarely change and I have only added to or subtracted from that bucket three or four times over the course of the past five years. Experience has taught me that no matter what task I am engaged in, from hanging a door in the house to installing fence in the back pasture, I will need a certain set of tools over and over again. Some of the tools in the bucket are used only once in a great while, others almost daily, but every one of them has a utility that has been demonstrated through years of repeated use, and so those implements remain together as a set, oiled, sharp and ready for use at a moment’s notice.
The same thing can be said for a set of human skills that some of us possess, but which everyone who strives for some form of self reliance will undoubtably come to use with regularity. It has taken me considerably longer to create the toolkit of skills than the bucket of tools, but the further I go in life the more important these skills have become to me and to those who practice the forms of self reliance. While this list is by no means definitive and omits other equally useful abilities, it could be argued that everyone would live a far more productive and independent life by mastering them to some degree.
1) Orienteering. The name of this particluar skill is one I picked up while in the military. It referred to the ability to determine where you are and where you are headed in a physical sense. Your location at any given point and your destination over time. How to use a compass, how to read a map, how to identify terrain features and how best to travel from point A to point B. The specifics of orienteering include a sense of direction or the ability to discern through the use of visual cues the cardinal directions of north, south, east and west. It further aids in our ability to know up from down, range estimation, i.e. how far to that distant mountain, how many yards or miles you have traveled either on foot or by conveyance, how to find water or shelter, how to navigate in daylight or in pitch black. There’s no need to explain the importance of this skill to someone who finds themselves lost, but it is equally important in our daily lives no matter where we live or what we do. The knowledge of your environment is no less important to someone in midtown Manhattan than it is in the Australian outback. There are few people as vulnerable to their environment and the predators that inhabit it as someone who is lost. This applies to our temporal location as well as our physical one. Knowing that you are out of your element in a conversation, in a crowd, in the time that you live is crucial in determining whether it is safe to remain or better to excuse yourself and find a safer environment. This frame of reference is your orientation and it is far better to master it than to be the victim of it.
2) Carpentry. This one has served me for most of my adult life and has not only saved me thousands of dollars of hard earned money, it has been a constant source of income over the years. In the strictest sense carpentry encompasses the use of tools and materials in order to either construct or dismantle man-made structures and objects. This spans the spectrum from a simple shelf to a skyscraper and everything in between. A good carpenter can work with wood and steel, concrete and plastic, run an excavator and operate a screw gun. Once these skills have been developed you will discover that virtually every opportunity to handle tools and materials is doable. A mechanic is a specialist in his field, a carpenter a general practicioner. With a few basic tools and experience you can demo a house, or build a new one, form and pour concrete, lay block and brick, turn out fine furniture for the home or mill rough boards for any number of uses. If ever there were a single skill to help build confidence as well as functional creations, it’s carpentry. One of the side benefits is the ability to turn conceptual mathematics into practical aplications. Geometry is no longer a system of identifying shapes and relationships in space, but of using them to build roofs that shed water, doors that hang plumb and floors that are level. A solid foundation upon which to build a successful life is rooted in the ability to handle any task with dexterity and precision. Carpentry is fundamental skill set and easily picked up by virtually anyone.
3) A sense of humor. This is one ability that is frequently said to be innate as opposed to learned but I disagree completely. I’m not talking about telling a joke properly, but rather how to deal with the unpleasantness and losses that are part of life in a way that allows us to soldier on. A sense of humor can defuse tensions, create bonds, lift spirits, lighten loads. At the lowest points of life when all seems lost nothing gives a greater sense of relief and possibility than a good laugh even if it is at your own expense. The Hobbes quote, “The life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” may in many ways be true, but it can be made communal, rich, refined, uplifting and long if you’ve got a sense of humor. I cannot tell you how many injuries I have experienced or seen first hand that were made less painful by a properly placed word or phrase made in jest at the expense of the wounded. So too is our life if we find a way to see the humor in it.
4) Husbandry. The word specifically applies to the care and raising of living things, whether livestock or orchards, gardens or families, but in general it means a management and conservation of the resources of life itself. What we do with money we’ve earned, how we care for the children we’ve brought into the world, how we store up for the future and dispense daily for our survival. It requires long term thinking and short term decision making in a way that creates stability and surplus. To husband implies a conscious effort to treat life as something more than a random series of uncontrolable events and to put these plans into action. It demonstrates responsibility for the multitude of gifts and blessings that are beyond our control — the bounty of plant and animal life, the beauty of creation we do little more than take advantage of, and the output of our daily efforts. To be called a good husband is one of life’s greatest compliments and to practice the wide variety of responsibilities as well as rewards associated with this skill is one of the most valuable assets one can hope to attain.
5) Marksmanship. Most people would assume that such a skill is neccessary for hunters and soldiers and would serve little purpose to anyone else. In a limited perspective this is probaly true, but marksmanship is not about firing a weapon accurately alone. It is a discipline that allows us to see something and make it happen again and again and again with precision. It forces you to think about intention married to outcome and measures with complete accuracy the results. A good marksman can bring food to the table or defend oneself and family. It requires focus, control, the ability to bring the various bodily systems into synchronicity in order to acheive a desired result. Expanded beyond weaponry marksmanship applies itself to a wide variety of endeavors; planting schedules, investment goals, parenting. To see something downrange and apply complete focus on seeing the vision become reality is one of the most important skills anyone can hope to develop.
This list is by no means complete or definitive, but it has served me well as a basic skill set. I haven’t mastered any of them by any means, but I work on all of them with regularity and dedication and the benefits that each has brought to my life far exceeds the efforts I have put into them.
Please feel free to add to this list.