The Case For Working With Your Hands

Getting ready to go to Paros for the summer means deciding what books to take. Considering the weight limits airlines allow for luggage, decision making is often a dilemma. One book that crossed the finishline is  THE CASE FOR WORKING WITH YOUR HANDS­ by Matthew Crawford. The author defines himself as a philosopher as well as a mechanic. Therefore, the book has many references to repairing motorcycles that, to be honest, kinda made me yawn. However, there was much info regarding the importance of using your hands that I would like to share with you.

The preface hinted at the idea that working with your hands is good for you morally. Maybe this is a reference to the quote ”idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, a maxim which can be traced back to Chaucer’s “Tale of Melibee”. Moral: Keep yourself busy and you keep yourself out of trouble.

Crawford complains that technical trades are no longer available in public schools as they were in the past because the trend is towards herding young people towards college based careers–whether or not they’re adapted for them.  The implication is that working with your hands is degrading. Could this attitude be promoted, in part, because the U.S. government makes so much money from student loans?

So what is the aftermath of such an attitude? For one, it’s created an economy based on consumerism which has no respect for manual skills such as mending and repairing.

When something breaks and needs to be fixed, it disrupts our state of self-absorption so, generally, we just throw it away and buy new. Consumerism is a form of dependency.

joseph smooke

Mended fence, San Francisco

Reparation is a form of ethics.

Repairing keeps us from being self-referential. To fix something, we have to go beyond the self and enter into the way of thinking of one who repairs as opposed to one who creates. And this means, momentarily, stepping away from our ego.

When we try to repair something, we seek solutions – it either works or it doesn’t. There’s no room for theory. Thinking is no longer separated from doing. Doing leads to intuitive judgement, to tacit knowledge.

LPFM repaired pottery

Repaired ceramics via LPFM tumblr; more mended ceramics HERE and HERE

Another problem that’s been created is that we’ve lost manual competence. And thus a form of knowledge. Anaxagoras said: «It is by having hands that man is the most intelligent of animals». That’s why, in the time of Homer, sophia (wisdom) meant skill.

Hands make the world tangible.  They help us interact with our surroundings. But they also provide a means of  interacting with our own being. Working with our hands helps prevent self-alienation.

alabama chanin

Mending, Alabama Chanin

Working with our hands leads to the formation of  neural pathways. They are created via repetition. We know best what we do regularly. This creates experience.  Experience is knowledge, individual knowledge.  Heidegger once said that the way we come to know a hammer is by using it and not by looking at it.

You can’t clone experience.


 Car mirror repaired

Children’s drawings: A field experiment, Undermining Children’s Intrinsic Interest with Extrinsic Reward, made in the 1970’s, had a group of children draw. Some children were rewarded with ribbons and gold stickers whereas others were not rewarded at all.  Several weeks later, those who had been rewarded showed less interest in drawing whereas those not rewarded were still highly interested in drawing and had improved their drawing skills as well.  The conclusion seems to be that drawing/doing is its own reward and that praise can dull the brain.

bunny by Maya

“Stobbayew” the six-legged, egg-laying bunny by 4-year-old Maya

For more related links, go HERE.

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8 Responses to The Case For Working With Your Hands

  1. Sue Woodford says:

    It’s the the same here in the UK. My daughters weren’t taught to knit, sew or cook properly at school. They were given the task of designing something before they had any knowledge of how garments were constructed, so the whole proccess was a waste of time. These skills are important, they save you money, are good for our wonderful planet, and they give a huge sense of satisfaction.
    Thank you for a great article.

    • Thanks Sue for taking the time out to comment!
      When I was in middle school, I took a Home Economics course that focused mainly on cooking and sewing–all the basics for being independent! One of my best friends and I use to buy sewing patterns, cheap fabric and would spend week-ends together making dresses–fond memories!

      • Sue Woodford says:

        Same here. I was lucky to have someone to share my enthusiasm, as even then, most women I met didn’t sew and reacted with suprise when I said I had made the garment they were admiring. I have hopes that the renewed interest in sewing, knitting and crochet will last long enough to become part of everyday life.

  2. aurora fox says:

    here on Dominica they repair most things…I think the throw away economy is for rich nations and is such a waste of resources…sooner that we know the rich nations will be having to repair stuff also as the worlds resources are used up and get more costly…and I am a person who always likes to keep my hands busy with knitting, crocheting or drawing…plus I love to use recyled materials…

    • Mille Grazie Aurora for commenting! I really enjoy your FB posts regarding your new life on Dominica…if you take fotos of their recycling methods, I would love to post them on my blog.What you are doing is courageous and wonderful!

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