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Can’t do won’t do

As on a lot of occasions I come to blog something, it’s been at the back of my mind for some time and then it certainly hits me. Yuh know, like it’s some kind of build up inside. Calm down – does it have to be anger? Does ‘build up’ necessarily mean some sort of emotion? I don’t think so. Build-up could well mean ‘importance’ or ‘salience’ or ‘unconscious processing’. Yes – I so reckon!

[This is a first draft – minor typos and grammatical errors will be corrected]

Right – after distracting myself to deal with potential idiots jumping to conclusions, I perhaps I should get on with it. I do warn that I am speaking generally based on my own experience – and minor exceptions to any of the following are fully accepted. So there’s no need to go, ‘But not everybody.. or not necessarily…or it depends.. etc etc’. And I’m also not the slightest interested in what some guru on the internet says, or some Professor Big Fish out there says.

I’ve often heard people saying things such as ‘I couldn’t’ or ‘I can’t do it.. never have done it like that’ or ‘I wouldn’t know how to start’ or ‘never heard of that’ or ‘I don’t know about thaaaat’ or ‘I’ve never been good at it’. Whilst these may be statements of fact, they also lend to an underlying attitudes, hesitance or resistance on the part of the persons saying such things. Only rarely do I hear people saying, things such as, “Oh that’s new.. I’d like to try it that way.. it doesn’t seem to involve any risk to me or anybody else.. I’ll have a go.” And just hang on, I’m not suggesting at all that a person should not be free to question anything that doesn’t appear right, or which may be potentially illegal, immoral or obviously risky to self or others. Yesterday, I was presented with someone over the phone, who couldn’t reveal the name of their company over the phone for legal reasons, they claimed. That sort of ‘can’t do’ is actually not based on ‘law’ – it’s based on a gross misunderstanding of the law, and fear that if they did otherwise, they’d be disciplined or lose their jobs.

Most of what I refer too here, is about very basic things such as ‘I can’t cook.. never been taught’ or ‘computers and me just don’t get on’ or ‘I’m not a languages sort of person’ or ‘I’m not a doctor [or whatever professional] so I wouldn’t know’ or ‘Never heard of it done like that.. does that really work?’ All of the latter are part of the ‘can’t do’ attitude.

The ‘can’t do’ attitude is about hesitance, fear, crippling doubt, anxiety and unwillingness. It usually, from my experience (and all that I say here is from personal experience), comes out when people are presented with different or new ways of doing something, to what they’re used to.

So what’s the ‘used to’ about? Sometimes I see people as being very similar to machines – to be more specific ‘computers’ i.e. if people have been ‘programmed’ to do something by exposure or cultural ways of doing something over the years, they become totally flummoxed when presented with a different way of doing something. Of course, computers may well freeze up, crash or don’t function if presented with something out of their ‘norm’. People don’t often crash and reboot when given to cook a three course meal for five people, if they’ve never done it before. But they may well freeze, hesitate, or find plausible excuses not to do or attempt, or just avoid the idea or suggestion entirely. And for idiots out there I don’t suggest that everybody can become a nuclear physicist or astronaut. Okay? I do acknowledge that there are real limitations at times. But I’m not talking about those sorts of things.

About 10 years ago, I recall clearly one of my relatives resisting peeling a raw cassava (with the skin on) with a potato peeler. The response was, ‘You can’t do that.. it won’t work!!’ and I go, “Why? It’s got skin on it.. it’s the same principle as for peeling a potato.” So I decide to demonstrate and this rather long cassava was peeled in short time more efficiently and properly than using a knife. And then they go, ‘Hmmm…. I really couldn’t have done that but now I see it I’ve learned something after 50 years.’ I can’t go into all similar examples. This one above involved less risk than using a knife. The point is this relative grew up being taught that cassavas had to be peeled with knives. That’s all she ever saw and did. So this different suggestion caused a) doubt, b) hesitation, c) anxiety d) reluctance and then e) failure to do (relieved by me doing it to show that it can be done).

And now that potential idiot out there is gonna go, ‘But not everybody is like that.. it’s about old dogs and new tricks innit’. And that sort of sentiment is exactly what I refer to in part. People actually have been programmed to accept and believe that people are set in their ways after many years and can’t change (whatever).

Well, another example shows how necessity may change a person, at least temporarily. I remember clearly another relative who was in her late 40s. She was a devout hindu and vegetarian all her life. Nothing containing the slightest bit of meat would dare pass her lips or even come within a few feet of her. I’m not joking. She suffered an unexpected and unexplained ‘pulmonary embolism’ for reasons unknown. Just calm down – no need to jump on the internet to find out what the devil a ‘pulmonary embolism’ is – just accept that for this person she was at deaths door, in a hospital in an intensive care unit at one stage. Remarkably she recovered. But her recovery was not easy. She had lost a terrible amount of weight and nutrition was a problem. She was told by doctors that she needed to intake more protein to get back on her feet and a vegetarian diet would not be sufficient in her circumstances to do the job. She resisted for a few days, got worse in her medical condition – and then when ‘necessity’ hit her she ‘could do’. She began accepting soups with meat or fish bases. I don’t think she chewed on steaks. But it was a sufficient enhancement to her diet. She made a faster recovery, was discharged from hospital and lived ‘happily ever after’ having returned to her vegetarian lifestyle (and I do no frown on that at all). As a young child – as I was at the time – I remember thinking about that and had a laugh to myself. I’d dared not laugh out loud for anyone to hear, so as to risk being beaten about the head. LOL that now for all to hear – I can without fear. Double LOL!!! 

In my later years, you see how these simple memories have shaped my thinking and attitude to people who can’t do. In general people can’t do and won’t do largely based on their programming by their unique exposures (to whatever). [Note carefully my choice of words] They then can’t and won’t do, because of habits and ways of thinking drummed imperceptibly into them by others, cultural forces and their life-experiences. It’s no one thing taken separately. Amazingly or rather amusingly, when the force of necessity bears upon them ‘mountains in their minds’ then begin to shift.

So where does necessity come from. I’m not about to give a list. Gosh – some people really need it all laid out for them and to be ‘told’ – innit? Sometimes people come to a self-awareness that it is ‘they’ who need to change. That of course doesn’t mean that they’ll simply do all that is reasonable and efficient to bring about change (from peeling a cassava to a vegetarian consuming meat-based products). ‘Force’ becomes important. Force can be as a result of externally driven circumstances. Rarely however, does a person truly resolve to change something about themselves, or learn a new skill, because they become internally driven by their own willpower to change. Sometimes people think or feel that they’re driven from inside, but still that motivation is a result of some real or potential circumstance. I’m not saying that all change is driven externally by unconformable circumstance. Some people change and acquire new skill because they simply want to improve something. Even if they resolve to ‘change’ or do things differently can they achieve the end by their own means – hence the proliferation of various gurus and life coaches on the internet. A lot of people because they ‘can’t do’ but need to change so badly, pay up to these gurus, who eventually take their money – and never can actually guarantee change. Of course they can’t give guarantees because the rate limiting factor is the individual themselves. So it all comes back to ‘you’. I’ve met a fair few very intelligent people who are totally self-aware of their needs to change – do they change anything much? Nope.

I’m not saying here that everybody needs to change (whatever). I’m focusing mainly on attitude and programming as I call it.

Habits – are not easy to change. I see habits as patterns of thinking and behaviour that have become well formed over many years. No full list here – tough. The important issue is to identify them, and understand how they have arisen. No – you’re not about to get a prescription on how to change them. There is no prescription  as there is no ‘one size fits all’ remedy – which explains why they’re not easy to fix (if in need of fixing). Many habits of thinking, viewing the world or interacting with the world, become imperceptibly etched upon us as we move through life – that’s part of the ‘programming process’. And of course, it’s far more difficult to un-programme a person, than to re-programme a computer – innit? Certainly computers – not being self-aware (as yet), are rarely able to debug and fix themselves. Well, that leads me to an important advantage that we have over these machines i.e. we are self-aware and we can re-programme ourselves. Nobody ever suggested it was easy but at least we can.

But the next problem becomes effort, insight and emotion. It’s effortful in a lot of cases to do something differently – and I’m not talking about peeling cassavas here. Effort itself is uncomfortable for many people. Insight comes hand in hand with self-awareness – and those ‘twins’ often cause much discomfort and inhibiting emotion. I’m not talking about crying or becoming het up. I’m talking about a very deep sort of emotion – that’s just a nagging sort of discomfort. And I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t like that sort of discomfort.

So where does that leave us – yes, you who reads this and me? We’re here on the same page  – even though our thoughts are temporally disconnected. I think it leaves us with food for thought and reflection. The choice ultimately is yours. Do you allow forces of circumstance and experience – the same forces that programmed you in the first place – to drive your re-programming OR can you find a pure force driven from inside you to change what you do and how you do it? Can’t do? Won’t do?


Supplemental: Compare with What’s real stubbornness?

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