Doing What You Say – for Good Reason

You will soon begin to notice it: there are things that people say to do, and there are things that people actually do, and the two routinely bear no relationship to one another. It’s especially easy to notice this phenomenon in childhood when advice, guidelines, edicts, and instructions are most forthcoming. Upon observing the disconnect – when people give you suggestions that they themselves don’t follow – it’s natural to be consumed by confusion. I am here to help.

When something becomes cliché there is great danger that mindlessness ensues. People will repeat a phrase like “Don’t lie” over and over without really thinking about why such a phrase is true. It just is. In childhood, though, if you ask Why? you’ll usually receive at least an attempt at explanation. It hurts people. Would you want someone to do it to you? It will make you a bad person. Perhaps these reasons can momentarily placate a child, but they are surely not good enough to honestly motivate behavior of anyone beyond a certain (read: young) age. At that tipping point, a safe conclusion is that adults are saying “Don’t lie” simply because everyone else is saying it. That’s it, that’s the mindlessness I’m referencing.

The conclusion is, of course, borne not solely out of insufficient explanations, but upon seeing a world filled with lies. Little lies. Big lies. Little big lies. It’s a bit like what the great Coach Chip Kelly said re: stretching:

When we do stretching in practice, we do a dynamic stretch. We emphasize what it is, and we coach it. That bothers me when I go to a high school practice. The entire team is stretching, and the coaches are standing around talking to one another or throwing the ball around. A coach should not worry about spending time in stretching if they do not care about stretching. They show how they care about coaching by their actions during the period, not their words. If you do not think stretching is important, do not do it. If you think it is important, you have to show your team it is important.

Does this mean the cliché – about stretching or lying or whatever – is wrong? Perhaps, but less likely in my estimation. For if an idea becomes so widely accepted to achieve cliché status, there’s probably some underlying value. Why then the lack of adherence?

First off, all those elders who are now creating a disconnect were once just like you, and just like you, their elders were exhibiting the disconnect, as were the elders for those elders. Since the cycle is infinite, it must be something in our humanity. Namely, we are flawed mortals who aspire to be “good” and often fall short … because we are flawed humans. Another infinite cycle.

Wanting to be “good,” mortals will respond to truly good reasons. Unfortunately, simple do-it-because-I-said-so directives struggle to count as “good reasons” in the marketplace of motivations. I can “not lie” because some authority told me so, or I can experience this pleasure/victory/advancement/prestige and come up with some rationalization (a.k.a. lie) later. It makes sense to lie here. And as you’ll soon witness, these “temptations” are everywhere, forever and always. Good people lie, sometimes. Bad people tell the truth, sometimes. This messiness is missed when drowning in the sea of clichéd mindlessness.

Throw in the fact that everyone is busy and tired. After that 60-hr work week, kids in need of attention, a spouse in need of attention, a body that will erode without attention, is there much energy available to deep dive into the philosophy driving the world’s clichés? Um, no.

But you know who doesn’t have all those commitments? You. This is one of the glorious truths of youth – it’s a time to get lost in weird, random wanderings. Don’t get me wrong, your parents will absolutely help you as they too are great explorers, even though they’re adults. And they, I trust, will be more than willing to wade beyond superficial answers and to also learn from you as you discover that which they have not.

On the topic of lying, I used to engage in the practice more than occasionally. I didn’t think it was a big deal, in part because I believed I understood the true reason for the cliché. I was wrong. This book corrected me. I hope it can be valuable for you too.