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  • Wayne Chasney

Maslow's Hammer

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… (Matthew 5:43-44)

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow famously said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” The concept has come to be known as ‘Maslow’s Hammer.’

That phrase kept running through my mind last week as the news reported story after story after story of people being shot after knocking on the wrong door, pulling into the wrong driveway, getting in the wrong car, or letting their basketball roll into the wrong yard. In each of these situations the response was to shoot first, ask questions later.

Maslow’s Hammer refers to our over-reliance on our favorite tools for addressing problems or dealing with situations. We fall back on familiar coping mechanisms whether they apply to a situation or not and even after they are no longer effective. In the case of gun violence, particularly those of the past week, if a gun is our only tool for coping with our fear, anger, or frustration, then we will tend to shoot first and ask questions later.

In the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us to try some new tools. Over and over, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you.”

You have heard it said do not murder, but I say do not even stay angry at another.

You have heard it said do not swear falsely, but I say do not swear at all but let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.

You have heard it said an eye for an eye, but I say turn the other cheek.

I am not opposed to gun ownership, but that should not be the only tool in your toolbox. Managing our anger, controlling our fear rather than letting fear control us, reaching out for help when we need it, and learning how to de-escalate situations are tools we also need to acquire. Without tools like these we will tend to respond to every perceived threat, or slight, or challenge with violence.

Not every problem is a nail and God does give us the tools we need to build God’s kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven.

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