If all you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail.

This is my favourite quotation. For me it speaks of how we suffer greatly and act accordingly, often, because we don’t have the tools we need to change our situation. But for now I am thinking about how we communicate and how it affects what we communicate. I think some guy from Canada wrote at length about this…

I had a discussion years ago with some of my fellow students who were French Canadian about language when I was in art school in the 70’s. Quebec nationalism was a huge topic and the importance of preserving the French language really important, so much so that when the conversation got really impassioned we each would shout in our own! Our argument was whether the true nature of a person wasn’t formed by the language they used to express themselves.

Is there some mystical quality in language? Can you change the scope of your mind with language alone? I would prefer to believe that understanding is what is the greatest power for change and language is only one way to get there.

Words can be used to distance ourselves from our experiences and from each other and so in the end they are limited. They can even be dangerous when used to express division of self and other. They can inspire, motivate and condemn but they have to arise within a context that is somehow meaningful to the listener and it is the context that decides their effect.

What I take the quotation to mean is recognize the context, the tools a person is using, if you want to understand what they are saying.

I also take it to mean, spend your life acquiring tools of expression but pay attention to the intent and the context to avoid bludgeoning meaning.

Also, expression is often wordless. Even the greatest poets can stutter in the face of reality. Expression requires effort and integrity more than just a vast or specific vocabulary.

The greatest tool is an open mind and that is the hardest to attain, it requires practice, but it is flexible and allows us to pierce all contexts, it uses language but is not a slave to it. An open and compassionate mind sees the hammer, sees the nail but hits both with itself.

in collection of Anzan Hoshin Roshi

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