The Age of Boxes
Over the past year or so, I’ve been paying more attention to the words that I use to express myself even to myself. Because what you say really matters, especially what you say to yourself. If you tell yourself a lie enough times then you will start to believe it even if no one else does. And we lie to ourselves pretty often on a hour-by hour basis so I wanted to consider one lie in particular;
“Cannot” and its contraction “can’t” are very specific words with very specific meanings. They literally mean “impossible” and when we use those words, we tell ourselves that there are impossibilities in our lives. Now, there are impossibilities but usually when we say “can’t” we’re definitely not talking about anything impossible.
“I can’t stay home for a whole weekend”
Yes, you can.
“I can’t live without my job”
Yes, you can.
“I can’t live without the internet”
Yeah, you definitely can.
But, we don’t want to. That’s accurate language. A lot of the things we say we “can’t” do are really the things we really really don’t want to do. Our shared reality that we call our world has shifted dramatically over the past few months and maybe it’s time we reclassify those “cannots”. Re-classifying your “cannots” and “can’ts” has one distinct benefit and that’s the power of opening up new pathways of possibilities. The Ancient Stoics spoke often about the concept of “assent” which I think could be helpful here;
Assent takes place over four basic steps
- We perceive something. (Perception here is knowledge gathered by any of our senses, not just our eyes)
- Our minds form an involuntary reaction (judgement) to that something.
- That reaction solidifies into an impression
Breaking here to point out that a lack of mindfulness would result in the process ending at number 3. It’s very easy to go with the first feeling we have about a thing or worse, use logic and reason to justify the first impression that we had. This is where communication and advertising specialists like myself thrive. Most ads appeal directly to emotions in order to create a strong impression that the conscious mind will justify with a purchase later on. Most politics-related discussions are of this ilk as well.
4. We assent or disagree with the impression. We can even choose to reserve judgement until more information becomes available.
The misconception of Stoicism that it is a “cold” philosophy probably stems from the practice of the Stoics to reserve judgement about occurrences. But, if we think about it, how many times could we have benefitted from, thinking about “it” some more? Or thinking about “it” from a perspective free from the initial emotion-colouring?
We could think of our original (read: animal) setting as:
Impression — -> Impulse
But what we really want to get to is:
Impression -> Assent -> Impulse
How does this apply to our “can’t/cannot” issue? Well, are we assenting to being locked into fewer options because we lie to ourselves about what is possible or impossible?
Fewer options is what we definitely don’t want to have yet most of our restrictions are caused by us assenting to the feeling that we have no options.
Let’s get accurate about what we can or can’t do, what we’re capable of and what is really beyond us and hopefully we’ll feel less boxed in especially now when we are actually being boxed in.
Andre Burnett was a co-founder of Krash, which pales in comparison to numerous achievements and ideas conceived and executed during his time on earth. A giant.