Attaching a Value to Can’t

In the book Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey wrote about one of the life lessons he learned as a boy. The first time he was “whupped” was for responding to Matt. He was told that he was not named after a doormat. The second time was for saying, “I hate you.” The third for saying can’t. The fourth for lying about stealing a pizza. It wasn’t the stealing that warranted the punishment but getting caught and then lying about it. What was the lesson he learned from these instances?

I only ever got in real trouble for the using or doing of the words that could harm me. Words that hurt. The words that helped engineer who I am because they were more than just words; they were expectations and consequences. They were values.

Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey

I have written in the past about the value of a name and on the virtue of Justice, which includes lying. But the use of the word can’t, this one hit the mark. Words have value. So, what is the value of this one?

Alec likes to use the word can’t frequently. If it is too difficult, too hard to understand, or requires too much effort, the default statement is, “I can’t.” I have never spanked him for saying this, unlike McConaughey’s punishment, but it has crossed my mind. He is too young to be setting artificial boundaries on his abilities.

Can’t means not possible. The value is concrete. When we overutilize this word, we put too much concrete around us. We put up barriers to what is within our abilities. Can’t is the governor on a Ferrari that reduces the car’s maximum speed from over 200 to 150 miles per hour, it is the speed limit that sets its maximum legal speed to 70, and it is the poor maintenance on the tires that further reduces it down to a safe speed of 30. Can’t is the boundaries that takes a supercar designed for speed and reduces it down to a substandard vehicle barely safe for the road.

Why put limitations on yourself by saying you can’t do it? This word has power, but it is not the kind you want to wield. Instead of saying can’t think of what it would take to make it happen. Maybe it is not possible today. But with the training, effort, and a different perspective, it could be possible tomorrow. As Les Brown said, “Life has no limitations except the ones you make.”