Ever since I was a kid I’ve been involved in the creative and artistic community. In recent years I’ve noticed a troubling trend among creative people.
We tend to define ourselves by our tools.
I’ll use these four examples because I know them well.
I’ve used an iPhone for about 3 years now, and I enjoy it. I am a fan of Apple and the products they produce. But I’ve occasionally come across an iPhone user who is a bit condescending to those who don’t use an iPhone. There is actually a whole sub-culture of hardcore Apple fanboys who look at non-Apple users as if they are somehow not intelligent enough to choose Apple products.
The truth is that there are many great choices for smartphones available today, and the iPhone is only one of them.
The elitist mentality among a handful of Apple users is especially evident when it comes to laptops and desktops. I honestly resisted getting a Mac for a long time because I couldn’t stand the attitude of a couple of vocal Mac users I knew.
Now that I’m a Mac user, I understand their enthusiasm, and I will never switch back to a PC for a whole bunch of reasons. It’s perfectly OK to enjoy and appreciate a product, but that product should not determine your relationships, and should certainly not define you as a person. A computer is simply a tool that helps you get the job done. And some types of computers are more well-suited to certain jobs.
3. Acoustic guitars
In the worship leading space, Taylor guitars are more prominent than any other brand. I have played a Taylor 414ce since 1997, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s a fantastic instrument, and Taylor builds amazing guitars.
However, it’s easy as a worship leader to be defined by your instrument if you play it long enough. It’s also easy to be a little condescending toward those who don’t play the same kind you do.
4. Electric guitars
The electric guitar has become much more prominent in modern worship over the last decade. The brand you see more than any other is a Fender Telecaster. I played an American-made Tele up until I recently sold it.
When guitar players get together, they always talk about the gear they use. If someone has a Tele that was made in Mexico or Japan, they will sometimes be apologetic about this when talking to a person who plays one that’s made in America. “Yours is American made? Oh, mine’s just a Mexican Tele…
Granted, American-made Telecasters cost more because they are higher quality than their counterparts made elsewhere. But if a guitar player is happy with his instrument, he should never be apologetic about it. Not everyone can afford an American Telecaster. (Truth be told, I couldn’t afford my Tele when I bought it, but I made a stupid decision to buy it anyway. I should have bought one of the less-expensive versions.)
Don’t get me wrong: tools do make a difference. I am definitely attached to my Mac, my iPhone, and my Taylor guitar. I use those tools because they are worth the expense, they are reliable, and they are created by companies I respect.
It’s OK to enjoy certain tools because they are helpful and they help us do our creative work. But it’s very easy to get so attached to your tools that you judge others who don’t use them as inferior.
Here are five specific reasons not to define yourself by your tools:
1. Your ultimate identify comes from Christ, not your tools. You can define yourself any number of ways, but if you’re a person of faith, you are first and foremost a child of God. I want to be an evangelist for the gospel more than an evangelist for Apple. Sometimes I fail at this.
2. Your tools can easily become idols. An idol is something that takes first place in your heart. Not to pick on Mac people again (because I’m one of them), but in some circles I see a cult-like obsession with Apple that worries me. You know you are in danger of making an idol out of a tool when you are irritated by others who aren’t using the same tool.
3. Tools should create unity, not division. It’s easy to look down on others who don’t share your opinion about a particular tool you love. It could be a computer, book, app, instrument, or something else. In our modern obsession with technology, have we forgotten that the whole point of our creative work is to serve people? It’s all about relationships. True artists use their tools to build bridges, not barriers. (Click to tweet that.)
4. Tools are just a means to a greater end. I love gadgets and guitars as much as the next guy (or gal). But they are just means to an end. A computer is a means to serve others, to communicate, and to do work that matters. A guitar is a means to celebrate the gift of music. A creative tool exists to serve something bigger than itself. (Click to tweet that.)
5. Tools change with the times. It’s dangerous to align yourself too much with a specific tool because something better may come along. In those moments, you must choose the best tool for the job regardless of what company made it.
Tools are just methods, and methods change. Most people don’t care about the kinds of brushes and pigments Michelangelo used to paint the Sistine Chapel. (Correction: at least one person does, and he wrote a fascinating book about it.) What they do know is that he was a great artist who created something extraordinary.
Maybe we should spend less time talking about all our great tools and more time using them to create great art.