Let's be more resourceful

Feb. 24, 2012
There are considerable resources available to make our lives better, but we limit ourselves by the way we understand them, or fail to understand them.
Robert Brooks

The Oxford English Dictionary is a great resource for someone like me, providing as it does not only clear definitions but historical origins of words, obsolete usages, and clear applications. It presents me with alternatives, or new options. I use lots of words, and I find the more that I have the more that I need: clarity is important if one expects to be understood, and if one seeks to understand. Definitions provide clarity for me, and for all of us. (By strange contrast, the OED finds that numbers are elusive: it cannot identify how many English words there are.)

The problem in achieving clarity is that the language we use to communicate is always in flux. English takes words as necessary from other languages (“keiretsu”), reassigns words in ways that seem appropriate (“text”) to users, and deploys useful words (or parts of words) to capture whole classes of new information (“fracking.”)

Reading and writing as much as I do, I want words to mean what I understand them to mean, so it’s troubling to see words overworked to the point of invalidation. “Solution,” for instance, has lost all meaning to me – or at least the meaning that the frequent users of “solution” expect me to take when they deploy it so frequently. Words have meaning, until the meaning is sapped by misuse or overuse.

“Resource” is another example of a valuable word about to lose its meaning. We have “human resources,” which is a phrase rich with implication — artists, athletes, scholars — but now it’s used only to describe the driest (and often grimmest) functions of a workday. Then, there is “financial resources,” a term that might describe the ability to recognize value and the creativity that goes to make more of something than might seem possible. But lately, this turn of phrase seems to be a used only in a negative sense, as in a poverty of assets, or a lack of ability or means, or commitment to accomplish goals.

Of course there are “natural resources,” those products of this world that make life warmer, brighter, more comfortable, safer, altogether happier and better. We ought to see “resources” as assets available to improve our conditions. Resources are reserves we can turn to when needs or opportunities emerge to elevate our conditions or advantages. Resources are fuel that fire our imaginations and propel our ambitions.

But too frequently, those resources are portrayed to us only as the rare and untouchable endowment of some undetermined benefactor, riches which we dare not touch because they are the legacy that we must leave to future generations – who, presumably, also will not dare touch them. Thus, these things we call “resources” are not resources at all, but rather objects we must respect, guarded by rules we must abide, and existing only in vague quantities we cannot question.

Don’t let my pseudo-intellectual tangent confuse you. There are considerable resources available to make our lives better, but we limit ourselves by the way we understand them, or fail to understand them. Among natural resources, of course, there are trillions of cubic feet of natural gas available near to U.S. consumers, a practically immeasurable supply that would provide decades if not centuries of fuel. There are also technologies available to access, process, and deliver that fuel — thus to convert natural resources by way of financial and human resources to address needs and solve problems, at the same time providing growth opportunities for individuals, businesses, and communities.

There are resources of oil and coal available, too, and unlike alternative energy resources they do not require subsidization or await commercial acceptance. They need only to be recognized as the available assets that they have been all along.

There are limits to our resources but they come mainly from our lack of understanding, or lack of ingenuity and creativity. By failing to recognize our resources properly we have diluted our potential, and narrowed the choices available to improve our conditions. When we confine the meaning of words we deny ourselves of clarity, and understanding. Problems go unsolved because we define them as insoluble. We close off possibilities. If we were as resourceful as we ought to be we would not trick ourselves with static arguments and false impressions about our limits or risks. We would consider all options availabl

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)