We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.
– Marshall McLuhan
Last weekend Angel and I attended a show at a local comedy club. During the last skit of the night, the comedian on stage delivered a fairly humorous rant on the age-old dispute of whether the pen is mightier than the sword. “Some people think too much,” he said as he pulled out an imaginary sword from an imaginary holster. “If you’re really dumb enough to think the pen is mightier than the sword, go ahead and arm yourself with a pen and I’ll take my chances with this sword… then we’ll see who’s left standing in ten seconds.”
His antics were hilarious, so naturally I chuckled. All of a sudden, he pointed directly at me in the third row and said, “Hey son, do you think I’m a funny man? You look like a pen-pushing, desk jockey! Get out your pen! Wanna fight?”
I was a bit startled. This was the first time I’d ever been called out and put on the spot in front of a large audience at a comedy club. The audience laughed and then silence swept over the auditorium. Everyone waited for me to either cower in my chair or stand up to the challenge. I stood up and spotlight shined down on me.
“Actually funny man, yes I do have a pen,” I said, pulling a fountain pen from my jeans pocket and holding it up for all to see. “However, I don’t intend to physically fight you with this pen. Instead, I’ll use the pen to sign a fat check that entitles me to a bazooka which I’ll use to blow your funny rear end right off that stage.”
The audience roared. The comedian groaned and said, “You little punk, I’ll use my sword and my cat-like reflexes to cut you, your check, and that pretty girl next to you in half before you can even blink an eye!” He looked at Angel who was sitting next to me and gave her a dirty wink.
The audience laughed again. I smirked and waved my empty hand around in the air noting that the comedian was, in fact, waving an imaginary sword at me. “I feel quite certain that your sword is incapable of doing any damage to anyone or anything,” I said.
Another short round of laughter escaped from the audience and I sat back down. The comedian made a few more foolish comments and moved on with the remainder of his routine. But I don’t really recall anything else he said or did. I started thinking about the ease with which so many people use rhetoric to mislead and deceive each other.
The Right Tool for the Job
In the hands of a poetic pioneer laying the groundwork for positive change, the pen is mightier than the sword because it can be used to create literary masterpieces capable of motivating an army of fellow citizens to join the revolution. In the hands of a foot soldier at the forefront of a battlefield, the sword is mightier than the pen because the soldier can use the sword to defend himself from imminent, physical danger.
Different people in different situations require different tools. Any object can be mightier than another if it is used as a tool in the proper context. A ply of soft tissue is mightier than a sword when you have a runny noise. A glass of water and an apple are mightier than a pen when what’s needed is hydration and nourishment.
“The mighty,” I believe, are those people who know when to use the sword, and when to use the tissue. They drink water when they’re thirsty and eat apples when they’re hungry. They use a pen and paper (or a computer) when then want to inspire others. And, I suppose, they invoke powerful, imaginary bazookas when they get called out and put on the spot in comedy clubs.
Photo by: Shoothead