John Andrist: Why Do I Do That? Because I Can…


Why do I do that?

It’s a question frequently asked, usually when something you are doing annoys somebody.

But why do we do anything?

Habit is one quick answer.

Another is that we think it is the right thing to do, or the expedient thing, for whatever reason.

But what got me on this train is the far more simplistic thinking, yet somewhat profound, that we do it simply because we can, or we think we can.

Kids in particular are inclined that way, but most of us are just grown up kids.

I misbehaved in a number of classes when I was in school. Yet I would never do it in other classes. Why? Because I thought I could (or couldn’t). So many things we do are just a matter of testing limits.

My high school coach, a pretty firm disciplinarian in the classroom, often said, “Nobody can make you do anything you don’t want to do, but I can sure make you wish you wanted to do it.”

I was pretty well behaved around him, because something inside me told me he probably could give real meaning to those words.

Think about how many things you did  when nobody was watching that you wouldn’t do if they were there.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Think about how many things you did  when nobody was watching that you wouldn’t do if they were there.[/mks_pullquote]

I can remember a guy who couldn’t complete a full sentence without a swear word — unless his pastor was in the room. He must have been able to cleanse his tongue, because something inside told him when he could.

Most crime and mischief takes place in the dark because it emboldens our internal system of green lights, which tells us it is more likely that we can.

Even those of us who think of ourselves as law abiding are guilty occasioally of cheating — when we think we can.

Think speeding for instance. Or not coming to a full stop when nobody is around (usually after dark). Tax returns would be remarkably more honest if we knew they would be audited.

I can remember situations where I picked up something in a store, and no clerk was around. I thought, jeepers, I could just walk out and nobody would know the difference.

My moral compass stopped me from doing it, thank goodness, but I couldn’t prevent the thought that I could.

Bringing it into useful context for today, why would anyone run away from a policeman for any reason? Once upon a time it was a given for everyone that it would be a stupid idea with consequences. But obviously some folks today think they can.

Most of us don’t really understand the drug problem we have in this country. But we know that the chief motivating factor for popping that first pill is that we think we can.

We all believe in the fundamental right of peaceful protest. It’s in our Bill of Rights.

At the same time we all have witnessed or read about crime taking place in a protest. We have witnessed it on the streets of Baltimore, on the side streets of Washington during the inauguration, and off and on right here in North Dakota during the endless DAPL protest.

We can argue about whether it is right or wrong, depending on which side we are on, but mostly it happens because those so motivated believe they can, or have been promised that fines will be paid by somebody else so there is no consequence.

In Baltimore’s case it was reported that the police commissioner told her force not to arrest looters. Guess what?

If a cop could simply shoot protesters carrying rocks and spray cans or bludgeon somebody lighting a fire, the violece  would quickly recede.

Mind you, I’m not saying they should. I’m just pointing out the power of “can”.

Like all axioms, there are mitigating factors. We all can do things out of fear or desperation.

That’s why I disagree with President Trump’s latest war with the Mexicans. He possibly can stop the illegal border crossings, but in doing so he may create a far bigger problem.

Finally, there is one big hole in this theory. Some of today’s parents appear to be adept at raising fine families without a stick of assorted implied threats that limit what their children “can” get away with.

They are geniuses beyond my power to add or detract.

My world still teaches that order must come somewhat by limiting what we can get away with — turning some of our cans into can’ts.