Say “I Can.”

My latest addition to the Yoga series.

My latest addition to the Yoga series.

This is a bit of a confluence of thought-rivers. Two comments came across my virtual desk on the same day and collided.

1) Master Marsh sent me some wise words about a recent post concerning “can” and “can’t.” He wrote:

“There have always been plenty who will say: ‘It can’t be done.’ Ignore those. Surround yourself only with those who say: ‘It can.’ I’ve come to believe this is less about can and can’t than about the challenge of doing. And not doing is always easier.”

2) Another of my favorite readers sent this comment about a post on boundaries and choices:

I’m thinking making own-able choices is so freakin’ difficult for so many us because we were never taught/allowed to make them as children, nor are we often encouraged/allowed to do so as adults. Most of us learned at a very young age that to do as instructed – without complaint or question – meant that you were “good.” Being “good” was all tied up in stuff like being seen and not heard; accepting “Because I said so” as an explanation; being expected to abide by dictated boundaries and beliefs because of tradition or what “Other people will think.”  Operate by the rules and you are “good.” Buck that system by challenging the status quo and you are “bad.”

At first glance these might seem like two entirely different subjects. Though, as luck would have it I read them one-after-the other and I started pondering why, “not doing is always easier” and if that might not have something to do with identifying “good” with compliance and “bad” with non-compliance.

It’s a fascination of mine that in a nation that prides itself on a spirit of independence we place so much emphasis on obedience, control, and compliance. Nike sells us shoes by plucking the chord, “Just Do It!” Yet, we all know that the cowboy spirit is not welcome in grades K – 12. It’s a mixed message at best.

In the world of work, in environments heavy on control and compliance, workers can be counted on to do the minimum. Why would they show up ready to give their best when their best requires a mind-of-their-own. They, in essence, become resistant to take initiative and necessarily refuse any ownership of actions. To take ownership requires being seen and compliance is a game of invisibility. I remember a very frustrated artistic director asking me why her creative people never initiated action. She was dumbfounded when I helped her see that she was the problem. She made it a habit of negating every idea that she didn’t originate. Her staff did what all people do when punished for making offers; they stop making offers. Her “creative” team became adherents of “It can’t be done.”

No child comes to the planet with an internal line dividing “can do” and “can’t do.” Imagination makes all things possible. “Can do” and “can’t do” is learned; it marks the boundary between safe and not safe (or unseen and shamed). There is a price for domestication. “It can’t be done” is often a statement of fear and refusal to cross the line into disobedience (independence by another name). I would add a thought to Master Marsh’s comment, “not doing is always easier;” it is also true that not being seen is always easier, too. Showing up is hard. Doing is always a challenge because doing is often unpopular.

Tom used to say: “You know the value of your work by the size of the tide that rises against you.” In other words, it takes a special kind of courage to say, “this is mine to do and it matters not a whit what others think or feel about it.” It takes a special courage to say to yourself, “I’ll never know if it is possible or not until I try.”

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One Response

  1. Remember dear friend, that public schools in the US were built not by educators but by the business/industrial community. They were structured as they are for two purposes: one was to train children to work in factories (this model came about during the Industrial Revolution). The other was to keep children out of the workforce until they were 16 so they wouldn’t take jobs from the adults (thus compulsory education). It makes lots of sense that the model has lasted so long. It feeds into the natural human need to control. Teachers generally come into the system out of the safety and security of their homes and then college. They are steeped in the “control” model and it certainly makes them feel more secure – so the system keeps on chugging.

    It is only in those places where there are a few (both in the management and teaching ranks) people who believe in the substance of your “Say ‘I Can.’” posting that a different model can emerge – one that is student-driven (as opposed to the phony student-centered model).

    Hugs and lots of love,


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