There are problems that need solutions and solutions that need problems.
A few years ago my dad bought a bucket of yellow paint to dab the curb in front of the house. The idea was to discourage people from parking and blocking the driveway.
After he finished, he was left with a surplus of yellow “caution” paint.
He had a brainstorm. He could use the paint to mark tools the way cowboys brand cattle.
That way, when he lent tools to neighbors, they would be more likely to return them.
Solution, meet problem.
Dad started by painting a yellow stripe around the wooden handles of the shovels, rakes, brooms and hoes then expanded to the crowbars. He painted the sledgehammer and the pitchfork and even the wheelbarrow. No tool was left unturned.
The charming thing about this habit is that my father doesn’t tell anyone what he is doing or why. And you don’t necessarily notice it on day one.
But eventually you realize almost everything in the garage has been painted yellow.
And even though no explanation has been provided, it’s pretty obvious what is going on.
At a basic level dad was anticipating the reality that if you have tools people will want to borrow them.
And if they borrow them, they may not remember to bring them back.
Stepping back, you realize it’s one of the most profound challenges we face as humans: How to live together in a community, cooperate and help each other without generating conflict.
Fences make good neighbors, as the saying goes.
And so does lending out your tools.
Provided, of course, you get them back.
(Part of a series based on conversations with my parents about how to manage life.)