Shards of Consciousness

The Parable of the Pointy Stick

When I was in the Air Force we had a saying

If all else fails read the directions. If it still doesn't work, get a bigger hammer.


(Did I say I worked in the missile shop?)

We don't come with instruction manuals. When our first ancestor (let's call him Urg) looked at the wild boar charging at him and thought He's after me!, he didn't have a guidebook by his side to tell him how to best use his mind to figure out that picking up that pointy stick and letting the boar run up onto it would stop the boar and give him and his family dinner at the same time. He didn't even know he was a me. No. He didn't have any where left to run, so he grabbed the stick, which was just happened to be pointy, to put between him and the boar. Physics and hunger took it from there.

Dandy stick with a pointy end! I think I'll keep it. It didn't take him long to get used to being a me.

Pretty soon Urg found out just how handy the pointy stick was. He could dig termites out of a hill. Tasty snack, that! He could knock a beehive out of a tree, run like heck to get away from the bees, then come back for the honey when the bees had calmed down. Honey on termites! Mmmm. If he and his buddies got together with their pointy sticks, whom, once he thought about it, were also mes, they could chase down a horse, and poke it full of holes until it lay still long enough to eat.

Eventually, Urg or one of his descendants decided to wedge a pointy rock into the end of a stick. Pointy sticks were nice and all, especially after the end was toasted in a fire for a bit, but they didn't last forever. And if the end wasn't real pointy, he had to push really hard to poke a hole in some animals. And it didn't work at all on the big round nuts with the milk in them. So Urg, or one of his descendants, tried wedging a pointy rock in the end of a stick. Way cool! It didn't splinter, and he could poke holes in things a lot easier.

Eventually Urg died, as did generations before him and after him. People discovered how to keep fire going without waiting for a convenient lightning strike, then how to start fires themselves.

Somewhere along the line another one of our ancesters learned that if you made a fire hot enough you could smelt metal from rock in it and make pointy sticks out of the metal. Language was a bit better developed by this point, and pointy sticks were used for a lot of different thing, so we ended up with short pointy sticks called knives, long pointy sticks called swords, short pointy sticks wedged into another stick called spears, even teeny-tiny pointy sticks called needles. Some people noticed that birds and fish looked kind of like pointy sticks, so putting things on the back of the sticks - feathers seems to work the best - led to arrows. Other people kind of liked the heft of a big rock in their hand, and pointy sticks weren't too good for grinding the rock up to put in the fire for smelting, so we also got hammers and axes.

More time passed. In another part of the world other people discovered how to make black powder. A far descendant of Urg's decided that if he could put a pointy stick in a tube and set off the powder behind it, the stick would go a lot further. Of course skinny sticks left space for the smoke from the powder to get out, so it didn't have to be all that skinny, and it came flying out so fast, it didn't have to be all that pointy. In fact, it worked best if it was as round as possible. We ended up with guns and cannons.

Other people weren't real keen on playing with pointy sticks. In fact, they really didn't like getting their hands dirty. Instead, they had a thing about counting. Over the years since Urg was around they had learned to play some pretty cool games with numbers. Not that numbers had a lot to do with anything else, except sometimes they did come in handy. If you looked at them just so, you could use them to figure out how tall things were, how big things were, and even what shape things were.

Sometimes if you looked at them another way, you could use them to get rid of all the dirty work of having to carry around your sheep, cows, and wheat when you went to the market to sell. In fact, if you put round sticks with holes in them on pointy sticks, you didn't have to keep the family around to have enough toes and fingers to count on when you were seeing how many sheep you had, or how many you would have left if you traded some to your neighbor two hills over.

Eventually someone who liked to play with the pointy sticks decided to talk to one of the guys who liked to play with numbers. After all, if they could count sheep, maybe they could make it easier to get his cannonballs to land where he wanted them to.

What do you know? It worked. Artillery was born.

Of course, people noticed that the pointier the stick was, the further it would go, so the round sticks started going back to being kind of pointy. Closer to our own time some people were sitting around, shooting the breeze about how to make their pointy sticks go even further and they came up with the bright idea of putting the powder in the stick and just throwing the gas out the back. Of course, they had been doing this for a long time on the other side of the world, but they didn't do a whole lot about putting the numbers guys with the pointy stick guys. Put these two crews together and you don't know where you could go. It was worth a shot.

It worked. That pointy stick went plumb out of sight. Of course it took a while to look at the numbers in just the right way so they would actually tell where the pointy stick was going and help build the pointy stick in just the right way, but finally the numbers gave up and decided to let themselves be shoved around until the guys who liked numbers got them to reliably give them answers that worked with the pointy sticks. So now we have rockets and missiles.

Finally someone thought maybe it would be pretty cool to ride in the pointy stick. After all. People knew the earth was really just a rock, and the moon was really just a rock. It didn't go anywhere. Round and round the two went. The guys who liked to play with numbers could even tell you where it would be before it got there. So we end up with a space program, satellites, teflon, and tang.

All because Urg picked up a pointy stick.

[tags]science, mythology, invention, parable, creativity[/tags]


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9 Responses to The Parable of the Pointy Stick

  • And thus ends my reading assignment for the day!

    I was entertained, informed, I even gave some thought to the fact that maybe my math teacher WAS right when she said my math skills would come in handy someday!

    Who'da thunk it? :)

    Thanks for the story, Rick - good stuff!

  • Your math teacher was right. Even if we only balance our checkbooks, the skills math teaches us stay with us throughout our lives.

    I'm glad your reading day ended with a smile, Aaron. :-)

  • Great parable - I see this in organizations I coach in all the time. There will be an obsolete process or procedure that no one knows why they are doing it other than its always been done that way. And if you recommend they improve, change or do away with it, that process becomes a sacred cow. People will fight to the death to defend the pointed stick - even if they have no clue why they are holding it.

    It is part of their history. So it's personal. But when I honor the history, resurrect the story of the origins of their "pointed stick", they can see the lineage and feel better about adapting, updating or putting it to rest.

  • Hi Dave,

    I hadn't thought of that aspect of the story. You have a terrific take on it (and now you get to tell people you coach they're going to working with the pointy stick :-) )

    It is a lot easier to change when we're able to see the roots of our behavior and processes, and know the changes also have roots.

  • LOL - I will. And you are so right. I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about lineage. Appreciating one's spiritual lineage has something to offer our worldly pursuits as well. I am wondering about what are the lineages that inform and support my unigue gifts and talents in my businesses. Or how discovering and honoring one's lineage can be supportive. Hmmm, a post to write....

  • Once I did not take more attention about lineage. though many friends loved to talk of it with me . and now you are correct and I will think of it.

  • If you end up with a book, Dave, I'd like a copy.

    One of the things that led to this parable is the sense that we get so caught up in the pace of our lives, and things as they are that we forget that persons, religions, cultures, all have a context and a history, connections to what has gone before. I don't know if it is willful ignorance in our thirst to feel new and unique, or a lack of education.

  • Rick, this is terrific! We tend to think about 'here and now' and forget there was a 'then and before'. Talk about link love; you just did it to the max.

  • Thank you, Carolyn (and Urg thanks you). :-)

    Just think, our keyboards are spiritual pointy sticks.

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