A Hammer in Search of a Nail
Updated: Sep 21, 2022
“I am just a human being trying to make it in a world that is rapidly losing its understanding of being human.” – John Trudell
**Reservation Dogs spoiler alert**
Recently, I watched an episode of Reservation Dogs, entitled “Decolonativization,” as the series was recommended to me by nitape’skw. For now, I’ll set aside minor quibbles with many tropes featured in the series.
In all, I enjoy the show. Particularly, I like that the teen characters in “Decolonativization” used critical thinking skills by way of the Socratic Method when being presented with information regarding decolonization.
Recapping what occurred in the episode, one source states, “Cheese asks the speakers about what decolonization is since it’s such a focus of the summit. How are the things they did today meant to do anything to decolonize? The speakers are vague with their answers, but encourage the young people to keep asking questions and challenging themselves.”
The following conversation occurred when the adolescents attended an annual youth summit, NARDS (Native American Reclamation and Decolonization Symposium):
MissMa8riarch: “I’m so proud of you young ones. Just being here today is an act of decolonization.”
Cheese: “Um, what exactly do you mean when you say, ‘Decolonization’?”
MissMa8riarch: “Well, decolonization is the undoing of colonialism.”
Cheese: “Well, I know the definition, um, but I was asking, uh, how are the things we did today supposed to do anything?”
MissMa8riarch: “Well, uh, I like to think…”
AugustoFireKeeper!: “Allow me to speak for you, sister. We, here as indigenous people, are braiding together the hairs of our ancestral ways. That is decolonization.”
Bear: “Yeah, that doesn’t make any sense.”
MissMa8riarch: “Yes, exactly. Keep thinking for yourself and asking questions. I’m so glad that I was able to give you that gift today. You’re welcome, little brother.”
Credit to the writers for using “NARDS,” as it is a well-known reference to testicles. Deez aside, I appreciate how both Cheese and Bear critiqued the ideology that was presented to them in a manner as though it was self-evidently true.
The absurdity of the speakers in the episode decrying colonialism is ironic, by use of the actual meaning of irony. The influencers benefitted from use of social media handles—the supposed poisonous fruit of colonialist labor—as social media was created during post-colonial times.
Yet, I digress.
When presented with little more than activist babble that hardly mirrors actual Native activism, while participating in oversimplified allyship, and when meaningless solutions were offered at NARDS, the youth rightfully criticized the symposium.
I’ve observed similar fromunda abstraction offered by activists and others in relation to a number of deez D’s:
It’s almost as though the supply of ethereal circle of concern issues has outpaced the demand for pragmatic action. Almost.
The influencers in the episode remind me of the law of the instrument, also called Maslow’s hammer due to a quote often attributed to Abraham Maslow who once stated, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
It is of note that the quote has been attributed to others preceding Maslow. Nonetheless, the quote reflects my perspective regarding much of the activism I’ve observed over the past decade.
If the only tool one wields is a hammer, it logically follows that one would search for nails. These metaphorical nails could exist as perceived problems such as colonialism, racism, sexism, and so on and so forth.
This isn’t to suggest that these issues don’t exist. Rather, I challenge whether or not such nails are the major contributing factor to the problems one experiences.
When I practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) with clients, I teach the ABC Model which highlights the Epictetian notion, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
Understanding the ABC formula of REBT is necessary to identify one’s metaphorical hammer.
(A)ction – The (A)ction that occurred
(B)elief – What you told yourself about the (A)ction that resulted in a (C)onsequence
(C)onsequence – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened and what you did (resulting behavior)
(D)isputation – How you challenge what you told yourself (Belief) about the (A)ction
(E)ffective new belief – What (E)ffective new belief you can tell yourself about the unhelpful or unhealthy (B)elief
People frequently maintain that an action (A) leads to a consequence (C). Someone not embracing traditions of past ancestors (A) is said to lead to fear (C) for an observer of tradition. However, REBT maintains that rather than an A-C connection we disturb ourselves with beliefs (B)—B-C connection.
In this case, a Native youth favors English over his ancestral dialect (A), a tribal elder thinks, “This shouldn’t happen, and because it is, our past is being erased due to colonialism and I don’t think I can stand this [B],” and as a result of this unhelpful belief the elder disturbs himself into an fearful disposition (C).
The consequence of fear can manifest in a fight, flight, or freeze response. The metaphorical hammer is then created to deal with the perceived problems.
This is an A-B-C connection that could use disputation (D), leading to an effective (E) new belief (B). While I have no intent on demonstrating the process of disputation herein, if you’d like to know more about how I do this with clients, I invite you to read my following blog entries:
A hammer can be quite useful when one needs it. However, without other tools in one’s metaphorical toolbox, deez D’s – dismantling, deconstructing, disrupting, destroying, decolonizing, etc. – require nails of oppression.
It isn’t improbable for us to disturb ourselves with what we believe about issues more so than the issues actually disturb us in the first place. I’ll demonstrate this with a simple example.
I suspect that a vast majority of people reading this entry are unaware of this (A)ction. At the time this entry is posted, a reported 46 people died in association with an earthquake in China.
Had I not informed you of this event, would the (A)ction have disturbed you? Now that you know people died, what (B)elief do you tell yourself about the event?
If you have any (C)onsequence related to knowing about the earthquake, though you were ignorant of the earthquake prior to my having informed you of it, how could an A-C connection be justified? Therefore, it is a B-C connection with which we disturb ourselves.
There may be a need for many tools to rebuild following the destructive force of an earthquake. If repair crews having nothing more than hammers, what might become of the reconstruction process?
Not everything needs to be beaten with brute force. REBT affords people the use of:
· a saw to take apart irrational beliefs
· a screwdriver to reassemble effective new beliefs
· a try square to assess appropriate responses to varied angles of issues
· a tape measure to determine proper fit of logical and rational beliefs
· pliers to hold a healthier, more helpful narrative than a self-disturbing one
· a wrench to tighten lessons learned in sessions through use of homework outside of sessions
· a plunger to unstop the shit you tell yourself, shitass (If you haven’t watched Reservation Dogs, this one may confuse you)
Though not in the “Decolonativization” episode, William “Spirit” Knifeman provides Bear with sagely wisdom in an episode entitled “The Curse.” At first, Spirt speaks in abstraction, similar to how the influencers communicated in “Decolonativization.”
It has been my experience that people tend to see through nonsensical ramblings offered as wisdom. When Bear challenges Spirit, much as he did with the influencers, the teen ultimately receives a very REBT-eque response related to personal responsibility and accountability in the following dialogue:
Spirit: “You, you’re acting like a kid, man. We all had a job, we all had a role. That’s how we built strong nations, like each a stitch in the great loincloth of the people.”
Bear: “I don’t even know what that means, man.”
Spirit: “Fuck, I don’t even know what it means, man. I’m just making it up as I go along, alright? Why you asking me all these questions? You weren’t even my appointment today. Fuck! Take responsibility for yourself, young warrior.”
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—and you realize that your metaphorical hammer isn’t always the proper tool for the job—I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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