I Can’t Help It
I own a brain. Just one, and it’s mine. I am accountable for the ideas it gives me, and how I choose to act on them. This is not always such a great deal for me. I’d be a little more optimistic but my brain, of late, has begun to lag in its response time to my calls. Sometimes it doesn’t show up at all, and this has become a problem. I’ve inquired about trading it for a later model, but it tells me I should be content with what I have. You never know what you’re going to get when you go pre-owned.
While my brain was listening to a radio program earlier this week, the host said, “They just can’t help it.” My brain locked onto the oft-heard statement and then did what it sometimes does. It didn’t consider the context of the sentence, but simply wondered where the phrase originated. That was good because it’s always a great idea to exercise your thinking organ. It was also not so good because I couldn’t get it off my mind.
The simplest explanation I could develop was that it had to first be knocked back a level. It likely didn’t start as a corporate justification, but a personal one. Sometime, somewhere, someone screwed up. Once the mistake was discovered, the “Eve” of excuses uttered the four miserable words that have at one time or another haunted us all, “I can’t help it.” What do those words really mean?
The first word “I” reflects individual participation, if not accountability. When you add the next word, you then may have the most powerful two-word combination of any generation. “I can’t,” has become not just one of a few choices when faced with challenges, it is now the default choice. “I can’t,” is so prevalent in our youth that school districts require posters in every classroom that provide alternative statements to “I can’t,” or “I don’t know.”
In journalist Katie Couric’s book The Best Advice I Ever Got, actor Matthew McConaughey – along with dozens of other very interesting people – weighed in on the book title’s topic. He wrote, “Growing up, my dad got mad at me for only two reasons: if I told a lie or if I said ‘I can’t.”‘ McConaughey went on to describe a moment from his childhood when his father helped him to understand that instead of saying “I can’t,” one might be better served by saying, “I was just having trouble.” His father said:
“Look, don’t ever say you can’t do something. That means there’s absolutely no way to do it. If you can’t do something, how are you ever gonna fix something? How are you gonna figure the problem out? How are you gonna ask for help? You’re gonna have trouble doing a lot of things in life, but they can be done. If you say ‘I can’t,’ that means there is no solution, you’ve given up, you’ve quit.”
McConaughey went on to say that this advice has helped him solve problems, work harder, and not feel so helpless in difficult times.
At last check, Mr. McConaughey was getting by just fine.
Throw in the last two words, “help it,” and you have a complete sentence; and almost always, a lie. Everyone knows what it means to help, and when you look at this phrase literally, there is a very ugly truth in it.
Whatever I cannot do or avoid doing is a stronger force than my emotions, my thinking, my experiences, and my resolve. That decision overpowers all of these characteristics in me. I am helpless before it. Now plug what you “can’t help” into this sentence:
____________________ is more overpowering to me than my good sense, and everything I know that is better for me. Have you considered that you’re giving the issue more control than you are to God?
What is it for you? It could be anything from ice cream to stealing from your employer – or worse. But seeing it written in front of you may be a sobering declaration. It is also a lie. The hard truth is, whatever we gain from what we “can’t help,” is more attractive to us than putting forth the effort to overcome it. Yep, we’re lazy, and the current trend in your neck of the woods and mine is not one any of us want to know about.
“I can’t help it,” kind of goes along with “I’m only human.” This one has always baffled me. Seriously? Only human? Just think of all the things that means. Go deep, and realize how many parts of being human are so super-sized compared to any other civilization we know of. Have you ever heard someone say, “Don’t punish the dog for doing what dogs do?” There are a lot of applications for that statement – and dogs. But not for us. Our capabilities so far overshadow anyone or anything known to us in the universe. Saying you’re only human is not only weak and lazy, it’s stupid. We are human, and we can help it. Maybe we should celebrate those portrayals of us instead of using them as excuses!
Besides, in addition to all of the wonderful things our minds can do, don’t forget that being “only human” comes with the delightful, first-rate use of opposable thumbs. Now that gets my brain going.
What do YOU think? (Comments go below!)