A Lesson With Contractions

The English language can be difficult even for those who are born and raised on it. An example is the way we tend to confuse the words “can’t” and “won’t.”

A little boy had climbed the tree in his back yard with no problem at all. Finding a way to get back down, however, was another challenge altogether. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and, like most boys with a whole day of opportunity, Timothy’s adventures had led him to the idea of climbing among the limbs of the Mulberry tree.

After enjoying a few minutes sitting on the limb and watching the world from way up high, or so it seemed to him, three attempts at climbing back down were frightening and difficult. Beginning to panic, the boy called out, and then cried out, “Dad. Dad! DAD! Help!” At Timothy’s age, Dad was still a hero who could do absolutely anything.

Dad quickly came to the rescue. He was amazed that Timothy had climbed so high. Standing beneath the tree and directly under his son, Dad instructed, “It’s okay, Timmy. I’ve got you. Just slowly scoot yourself toward the edge of the limb and let go. I will catch you.” He had a sense of confidence in his voice, but Timothy was not so certain.

Then he determined, “Dad, I can’t!” Now, you and I know that statement was not true. There was nothing physically hindering the boy from doing as his Dad suggested. What he meant was, “I won’t!” He could have said it in other ways: I don’t want to; I’m afraid to try it; I don’t believe you can catch me. Yet, his words and thoughts were, “I can’t.”

Well, after some coaxing and reassurance, Timothy finally discovered and proved that he could do it, and he was brought safely back to earth by his Dad, who came through one more time.

The mind is a powerful instrument. It can convince us of almost anything if we allow it to do so, whether positive or negative. Athletes, entertainers, writers, lawyers, teachers, soldiers – – they all will agree that confidence enhances performance, and lack of confidence can derail performance. Of course, we should acknowledge and accept that there actually are some things we cannot do, some things we cannot know, and some things we cannot see.

We also should admit that too often we fall short of our best by convincing ourselves that “we can’t” when we really do not know that to be a fact. We are so confident in our knowledge of probabilities that we give up too easily. Someone inquires of us, “Have you asked Bill?” Our response often may be, “No, but he’ll probably turn me down.”

William F. O’Brien is credited with the statement, “I’d rather try and fail than never try at all,” and Henry Ford declared, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.” This reminds me that after working through negative probabilities and self-doubt, the Little Engine finally believed he could, and he did.

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