“Be prepared for what?” someone once asked Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting,
“Why, for any old thing.” said Baden-Powell. (source)
A good test to see if someone understands the difference between being prepared and being resourceful is to tell or show them how to start a fire with a 9-volt battery and some steel wool. People who understand the difference between preparedness and resourcefulness will think it is neat and tuck the method away in their mind in case they ever happen to need it. Those who don’t understand the difference will take the battery and steel wool and tuck those away in their camping stuff for the next time they want to start a fire.
It is impossible to have every tool for every task on hand all the time. When I go camping I don’t bring a defibrillator, a stretcher, an ankle brace or insulin shots even though it is possible that I could meet a fellow camper who needs any one of those items.
I do however know CPR, can make a stretcher from two long sticks and a blanket/tarp/jackets, can tie an ankle and could usually find something edible in place of the insulin shot (this one has actually happened to me!).
The ability to look to ask what is needed, look to one’s surroundings and find a workable solution is resourcefulness. Learning about alternatives, such as the battery and steel wool trick, will only take you so far. To be truly resourceful you need to be able to discover new ways to achieve the desired results. Maybe you don’t have a battery, how about a cell phone? Car battery and jumper cables? Two wires and an outlet you can turn off and on with a switch?
Sometimes resourcefulness will result in an outcome that’s as good as if you had the correct tool (like when you get the fire started). Other times the kludge is temporary but will do until you can do the job right. A great and humorous look at resourceful fixes is There I Fixed It. Lots of the “fixes” are unsafe, impractical or otherwise unwise, but nearly all of them solve a problem with the available resources.
So, just to make it clear: Resourcefulness is the ability to make do with materials on hand. It is different from preparedness, although it can be considered a component of preparedness.
Being prepared is a combination of several different factors.
The most common focus of preparedness is the physical. The camping checklist, the 6 month emergency fund, the year supply of food, the emergency kit in the car…these are all important physical aspects of preparedness. Decide what physical (including financial) resources you should have on hand for an emergency and get them. Get some water in case the water main breaks and you’re out of water for a few days. Get some basic tools so you can fix that cupboard, stop the leaky faucet or change your car battery.
Educational preparedness is another important aspect of preparedness. If you want to be prepared to help someone who is choking, learn the heimlich manuver. If you want to be prepared for a house fire, learn how to use a fire extinguisher and escape ladders. There’s really no limit to what you can learn that could be helpful. Car repair could be useful on the freeway some day, basic plumbing skills could save your house and your wallet. Go back to the emergencies you are worried about and learn the skills you will need to get through them, including how to use the tools you just bought.
The last aspect of preparedness is the above mentioned Resourcefulness. In an emergency, when you’re camping or when you’re away from home you might not have all the tools you would like to have on you. That’s the time when you need to ask yourself what the needed results are and how you can reach them with what you have.
Putting it all together
A good family friend of ours had his van break down on the side of the road an engine belt broke. He didn’t have a replacement belt, but he did have some tools and a pocket knife. After walking the ditch for a bit he found a length of bailing wire. He was able to use the wire to get the van running till he got home. There’s not going to be a Youtube Video showing how to use bailing wire to fix an old Dodge van’s engine belt. Our friend had to use his knowledge , tools and resourcefulness to fix his problem.
A Battery and Steel Wool : Preparedness or Resourcefulness?
The reason the battery and steel wool trick is a good separator to discover who understands preparedness is because it’s not that great of a fire starting method! The battery gets hot, the steel wool burns quickly, you can’t easily check if your battery has enough juice to do the trick, and the steel wool doesn’t actually burst into flames. Wooden matches or a lighter is the best, easiest way to start a fire. The steel wool and batter trick is easy to do, a little bit fun and visually impressive so people like the idea of using it.
Example 1 :
The steel wool and batteries are not necessarily in place of the matches and/or lighter but in addition to them: back-up batteries for flashlights and steel wool for scrubbing pots. (source)
Every car emergency kit should include a wad of steel wool in a zip lock bag and a 9 volt battery for easy fire starting. (source)
As long as you’re planning, use the good tools! Pack some good matches in a waterproof case. Pack a lighter that lets you see how much fluid is still inside! Besides, your car probably has a cigarette lighter in it (check the glove box) and steel wool isn’t the best tool for scrubbing pots when camping since it rusts so quickly and probably won’t be left out where it can dry thoroughly.
Conclusion : Be Prepared
Being prepared is an admirable trait which includes the also admirable trait of resourcefulness. The two traits however are not the same thing, and thinking that one is being prepared when one is being resourceful could leave one with less than the best tools in a situation that was easily avoidable.
So use that steel wool and batteries if that’s what you have on hand, but if you’re planning, be prepared.