"Whether you think that you can or that you can’t, you’re usually right." –Henry Ford

In this troubled economy, more people might take this gentle exhortation to heart. In Ford’s time, Yankee ingenuity — the ability to make a go of things in even the toughest circumstances — was a point of pride among Americans. But it’s a rapidly vanishing American trait.

Granted, things have changed since Ford’s time. We’re no longer so easily pigeonholed by occupation — the butcher, the baker, the Model T maker. And perhaps because our own jobs are becoming ever more specialized and esoteric, many of us have come to believe we’re incapable of doing even relatively simple domestic repairs without the help of "experts."

This is especially ironic in view of the fact that, thanks to the Internet, it’s never been easier to get the information that can help us help ourselves.

In these technologically complex times, you’d think we’d take comfort in the fact that, while we may not be able to repair our own computer, at least we can still be self-sufficient in simple things such as replacing a door hinge, repairing a fence, or changing a furnace filter. But the opposite seems to be true.

Take that perennial domestic bane: the leaky faucet. Today, recession or no, many people’s first reaction to that drip, drip, dripping is to reach for the phone book and call a plumber, not to spend a few minutes online sussing out what the problem might be.

Never mind that the parts for a do-it-yourself faucet repair might run you a couple of dollars vs. the $100 or so a plumber might charge.

While everyone deserves to make a living, it’s just as well to reserve an expert for problems that actually require some professional knowledge. And it’s not just dripping faucets and other modest do-it-yourself repair tasks that Americans have come to shun. Even simpler jobs are now being handed over to so-called "experts."

An acquaintance of mine recently hired a company billing itself as "junk removal specialists" — a niche business that could only prosper in material-mad America — to disassemble a child’s jungle gym and haul it away.

The same fellow, mind you, also pays for membership in a pricey health club, where instead of using his energy to accomplish something useful — like taking down that jungle gym — he instead pays for the privilege of squandering it on a treadmill. Nowadays, it seems, we even need experts to tell us how to waste our effort.

I’m not sure just what is sapping our store of Yankee ingenuity. Maybe it’s the usual fear of having to learn something new. More likely, though, it’s just the laziness that grows from being used to paying one’s way out of problems.

If so, these tough times should be a great incentive to relearn the grand old Yankee trait of self-sufficiency. There’s nothing to lose by trying — in fact, there’s not even much to lose by failing.

To follow another Fordism: "Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently."

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