Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Necessity and Desire

"I don't care if you want to do it, you have to do it."

How many times have you heard something like that? If you're a parent, you might find yourself even saying it dozens of times a day. And yet, Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication insists that it's simply not true: there is no "have to."

"Nonsense," you say. "I have to do lots of things I don't want to do. I have to go to work. I have to get my kids to school. I have to brush my teeth. There's all kinds of things I have to do."

But what do we really mean when we say that? No one is holding a gun to your head, telling you to brush your teeth in the morning. You brush your teeth because you decided to do so. You consciously decided that you like have clean teeth, that you don't like having bad breath, and you definitely don't like going to the dentist and having your teeth drilled. You brush your teeth because it gives you something you want.

"Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to," you say. "It amounts to the same thing. I still have to do some things that aren't fun."

Maybe it is just semantics. Maybe it is "just" the way you express it. But why express it that way? Why would you want to take something freely chosen -- something you want to do -- and turn it into a compulsion -- something you have to do? One way of looking at it implies freedom and choice; the other, restriction and limitation. Why would you want to go through life seeing everything as forced? You may end up like Steve Martin's character Gil Buckman in Parenthood. When his wife asks him if he "has" to go to Little League practice, Gil snaps, "My whole life is "have to"!"

When you find yourself saying "have to," you have removed freedom from the situation. You probably just become disconnected from the real reasons you do what you do: you have literally forgotten why you do it. If you reconnect with those reasons, maybe it won't feel so forced. You often hear: "Ah, now I remember why I got into medicine to begin with," when someone reconnects with their original motivations.

If you can't find that original motivation, a compelling reason to want to do what you do . . . well, then, maybe you really don't want to do it. Shouldn't you stop doing it, then? If you can't find the reason, then you are, literally, doing things for no good reason.

It makes for a good mindfulness meditation. Every time you think "have to," stop and ask yourself, "Really? Why?" See what happens.



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