Rules for Intrepid Living

Rules for Intrepid Living: Rule #62.

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Rule #62. The sharp tool cuts best.

Abraham Lincoln supposedly said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I shall spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The attribution doesn’t seem to hold weight, but the sentiment does; when it comes to cutting, the sharp tool does the best work.

I always carry a pocket knife on me, and in Rule #5 I made the case that everyone else should as well. But just as important as carrying that knife, is keeping it sharp. A sharp blade is more efficient, more effective, and is much safer than a dull blade. This isn’t just true of knives; axes, saws, planes, chisels, and gouges all work better when kept sharp.

It’s also true of us.

That’s right, I’m not just talking about keeping knives sharp, I’m getting metaphorical. Like our knives, we work best when we’re sharp. Knives are sharpened with whetstones, and we are sharpened (or dulled) by our actions. When we learn, train, and improve ourselves we become sharper, more effective, and less dangerous. Did you work out, meditate, practice a skill, or learn something new today? If so, congratulations, you’re a little bit sharper than you were yesterday.

When you’re working with a knife, axe, or any other bladed tool, you quickly learn that it’s much easier to keep it sharp as you go. When you notice that the blade is starting to dull, sharpen it right away. The longer you wait, the duller the blade becomes, making for a more difficult and time consuming sharpening process.

Again, this is also true of us.

We see this most readily in physical fitness. It’s much easier to stay in good shape, than it is to get back into good shape; sticking with it over time yields better results than yo-yoing back and forth. It’s also true of our mental acuity, positive attitude, and acquired skill sets. It’s much more effective to learn a little something new every day, as opposed to trying to cram a bunch of new knowledge in our skulls all at once. It’s much more effective to meditate five minutes each morning or evening, than it is to just meditate thirty five minutes on Sunday afternoon. You’ll reap better results from regularly practicing a skill than you would from dedicating several hours one time and neglecting the activity after that. Running the blade on the whetstone one time won’t have much effect. It’s the repetition that sharpens the knife, and it’s the repetition that sharpens us.

Unfortunately the inverse is also true. Repetitive action can dull us as well. If we eat poorly all the time, neglect our physical fitness, indulge in unhealthy habits, or fail to challenge our minds on a regular basis, we will dull quickly. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever eat a pizza, have a lazy Sunday, drink a few beers, or indulge in a stupid movie, it just means that you shouldn’t do it every day. As my friend Mike says, “You are an average of your actions.”

All you have to do is make sure that your average is an improvement. It’s that simple (though admittedly, not always easy). That’s how you hone your life, and keep yourself sharp.

But do keep your pocket knife sharp too. Trust me, it will come in handy.

“Rules for Intrepid Living” is a recurring post suggesting how we might all live more adventurous lives.

2 thoughts on “Rules for Intrepid Living: Rule #62.

  1. I always used to keep my Swiss Army knife with me, until we were no longer allowed to take them on planes! And now I seem to have mislaid it. Permanently. Which wasn’t sharp of me.

    I’ll need to get another one and just remember to take it out of my handbag before I’m going to fly anywhere.

    1. I’ve had trouble forgetting to take mine out of my pocket when I fly, but luckily I have always caught myself before having to relinquish it at security. Not so for my wife however; somehow her gerber tool made it through security when we flew to London, but the security at Charles De Gaulle caught and confiscated it on our trip home. It was the first gift I got for her, so she was a little upset about it, but what can you do?

      I tend to feel a little naked without my SAK, so I’m always a little disappointed traveling by air.It’s not so bad when I check a bag, but the last few times I’ve flown I’ve only taken carry-on. I’m just so accustomed to always using it in my day to day life, that I feel strange without it.

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