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Categorized | Skills

Let’s talk about skillz, baby. Let’s talk about you and me…

By Olymar Gallagher,
MPA, Emergency and Disaster Managment

After meeting my Montana raised husband in New York, it became blatantly clear to me how few hard skills the average New Yorkers possesses.

I always half-joked with him about teaching a class  on how to be a “Real Man” in New York.  Now before all you metropolitan men begin to get your feathers ruffled, allow me to qualify my statement.  Major metropolitan areas are service-oriented places.  You don’t need to be able to, say, fix your car because if you’re masochistic  enough to own a car in New York City, the most hassle-free path is to have the car “serviced”.  Besides, unless you live in the South Bronx apparently, repairing your car on the street is illegal.  The skills traditionally possessed by men AND women (I’ll get to us too) have essentially been pimped out to the service industries, and in fact are legally prohibitive in major metropolitan areas.  And for the record, I am not the only woman who feels this way.

In my dating days, “real manhood” was a recurring theme in conversations with countless women… including that occasional drunk woman who wants to talk too long in the bathroom.  But the ladies are not exempt here.  I squirm with self-loathing every time I have to pay someone $7- $12 to hem my pants.  Traditional skills such as sewing, and cooking (gladly, I happen to kick ass at the latter) are increasingly rare.  And why should one bother, when it is so easy to drop the clothes off at the cleaners on the way to work?  And why cook if it’s more cost effective to pick something up from the favored convenient restaurant?

There are some fundamental problems with trading in skill for convenience in terms of  making it out-alive from sticky situations. For starters, when we service out our lives, we begin to tear the fabric of collective knowledge that has taken humanity precious generations to build.  That is, we are not able to pass down basic skills when we are not able to teach them to the next generations.  We also get further and further away from self-sufficiency as we become to increasingly “specialized.”

The net result is that our resilience in abnormal conditions (power outages, hurricanes, violent attacks) becomes diminished to a point of personal endangerment.  We cannot rely on government to take care of our home.  And while we cannot expect to begin to know every skill necessary for daily living, continually acquiring hard skills  has ancillary benefits spanning beyond “apocalyptic” conditions.

1.  Hard skills are heritable.

2.  Hard skills can reduce our cost of living by reducing the number of services you have to buy.

3.  Hard skills increase our confidence and abilities to “do more”.  I’ve learned that “handy” people rarely know what they’re doing. Instead,  they have  developed an uncanny confidence and a basic skill set to take on new challenges.  That is, they have troubleshooting intelligence that is plastic and  experiential.

4.  Hard skills make us more resilient both individually and as communities when the fan gets hit with the bad stuff- as it invariably does.

I grabbed my husband one day, took him out to the parking lot, pointed to the wheels of the car, and said to him “I need to be able to change a tire.  Teach me”.  We stayed there for an entire afternoon jacking the car up and down, taking the tire on and off, until I could go through the process entirely on my own.  When I changed a tire  by myself, I stood there, arms akimbo, pissed off and greased up beaming with more pride and self-respect than I had had in a long time.  The reality is, you can’t learn how to change a tire unless..well…you change a tire.

I’m not suggesting we all develop MacGyver-like skill sets.  I mean, sweet Jesus, MacGyver!  In one episode, the guy stops a missile from  detonating with a paperclip. Really MacGyver?  Really?  I’m just saying that here’s a list to think about and perhaps start checking off.  And even if you’re a pro in all categories, there is ALWAYS room to acquire and refine more skills.  Do you know how to:

Change a tire?

Do basic sewing?

Apply CPR procedures?

Do some basic food preservation?

Plant a garden?

Load and shoot a weapon?

Name a few birds you see every day?

Purify water in a pinch?

Create a basic shelter?

Create a basic family emergency plan?

Read a map?

Use a microscope?

Use a compass?


Hunt for food (and I don’t mean going to “Whole Foods”)?

Use a defibrillator?

Make bread from scratch?

Tie some basic knots?

Make yogurt?

Build a fire?

Go without food for 3 days?

Shoot a bow and arrow?

Take a punch?

Sail a boat?

Milk a cow/goat/sheep?

Ride a horse?

Run 10 miles barefoot  without stopping if you had to? (link –Born To Run).

Read the night sky (without a phone App)?

Get to work without your car?

Make a fire without matches?

Speak another language?

Do math in your head?

Preserve seeds?

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