28th March
2011
written by Randy

I recently read an article online somewhere, written by a professional knife sharpener. Due to the nature of his job, this isn’t a guy who is going to have a blog, with weekly posts about the latest news and insights in knife sharpening. There’s just not that much to say about it, that couldn’t be summed up in one article.

He said that two simple things, above all else, could keep a sharp edge on a knife, and save people from having to pay him for his services: stop tossing your knives into a drawer, and stop putting them in the dishwasher, both of which are activities that result in the knife being banged into other objects, brutally affecting the sharp cutting edge.

I’ve been thinking about this simple advice almost obsessively for much longer than I want to admit. Why isn’t this obvious to people?

I started to see a connection, though, after recently spending an extended amount of time in Italy. I stayed in dozens of hotels across the country of Italy, and only two of them had washcloths. I wondered “without a washcloth, how does one clean himself?”

But all these hotels had soap. Soap was never forgotten. And it started to become clear that the idea was to rub the soap all over your body, as if the innate “cleanness” of the soap would magically pass on it’s “clean” properties to your skin upon contact. Absurd. (I will note that everywhere I went in Italy, people were sick, but I’m sure there’s no connection!)

This soap situation began to give me insight into the knife situation. And it also reminded me of another, similar phenomenon that I see: pills.

Pills are, frankly speaking, the most ridiculous form of witch-doctor science I can imagine. When you ingest a chemical, it first goes into your stomach, where it begins to break down. Depending on the type of pill, it may dissolve quickly and rapidly enter into the blood stream, or it may first take a detour through the small intestine where it must be broken down further. (Various types of pills are broken down by various digestive chemicals in the human body.)

Eventually, though, the chemicals in that pill are passed into the blood stream, where they are distributed to the entire body. That is, after all, how the circulatory system works, right? Or did you think that when you take a headache pill, there was some instruction set encoded on the pill that magically sent it straight to your head, bypassing the rest of your body?

This is why we have things called “side-effects,” because what you do to your body affects your whole body. Yes, sure, I know that there are some chemicals which have more notable reactions in localized places and insignificant effects everywhere else. But those are far fewer than you think.

The point is this: objects are not innately endowed with certain abilities as a result of their name. Neither are people. Calling something a knife does not magically make it a good cutting instrument. Calling something a pill does not give it the ability to cure certain things. Soap is not inherently clean.

This kind of thinking is dangerously ignorant, yet it infects our society at an alarming rate. People don’t stop at using this simplification to label knives as sharp, or soap as clean. People presume that a professional is better at something than an amateur, even thought the only difference is that one uses that activity to earn a living. People assume that because I don’t use soap I must stink, when actually they’re more likely to stink because they do use it!

“The world is not black and white,” people like to say. A knife can be dull. Soap can be dirty. A pill can cause more problems than it fixes. It’s dangerous to label things. It’s much more important to understand them.