You can do Anything if You Set your Mind to it

PlatitudeThe final day of my weeklong attack against Facebook Platitudes has arrived and I like to think I’ve save the best, and by that I mean most egregious, for last.

You can do anything if you set your mind to it.

I can do no better than to quote the magnificent Penn Jillette, “Eat the sun”.

I’m fairly certain I could simply call it a blog right there but I’m going to analyze the idea behind the platitude, the well-intentioned hopes, and the disastrous results.

There are two thoughts behind making this statement one of which is well-intentioned and the other is malicious. The first is to encourage a person to be adventurous and try things. This is excellent advice. Life is better if we enjoy it broadly rather than narrowly. There is much that is good in this world and being afraid to try things leaves us with a less than full life. It’s great to encourage a person to try things. This is just a poor platitude to do it.

Parents encourage their children with this platitude in the hopes the kids will leave their fear behind and experience life to its fullest. Again, excellent sentiment, I wholeheartedly approve.

The negative situation where I see this platitude thrown around is to blame people for failing to complete a particular task. It is often used when the failure is beyond the person’s control and is the tactic of a bully to deflect their own culpability in the events leading up to the failure.

You didn’t finish the job? Why not, you can do anything if you set your mind to it.

The bullies of the world take over when the achievers are not allowed to succeed. This is one of the central messages of Randian Objectivism and I’ll talk about it in another post.

Now let’s move onto why this idea is not only silly but dangerous.

If we tell children they can do anything they might actually believe us. A child that is told they can do anything is doomed to disappointment. They cannot do anything. They can accomplish more than they think they can, they can do amazing things if they plan and execute with realistic, objective thinking. But, this platitude sends a ridiculous message of entitlement. I’m going to talk about the sense of entitlement that pervades our culture in a later post. I really do think that telling kids they can do anything leads to adults who are unrealistic and entitled. This is bad for our nation. When we talk about greatness it is usually in reference to people who achieved after a great struggle. People who think they are entitled don’t bother with struggle. They quickly give up. Having to work for something is not a bad thing, in fact it is the opposite.

I’m playing a lot of chess lately and because I live in St. Louis, Missouri with its world-class chess club I get to see guys like Hikaru Nakamura play. Thanks to modern computers I get to watch a fellow with the monikor Chess Network play live on Twitch and actually get to play him now and again. I’m not of the opinion that I can beat either of them. However, I’m working on my game, playing better chess, advancing, and feeling pretty good about that.

This to me is the most important thing of all. We can’t raise a generation of people who have unrealistic expectations about themselves and about the world and hope to see western style democracy finish what the founding fathers started. So, don’t tell your children they can do anything. Teach them to think objectively, to plan, to try new things. And don’t just teach them. Show them. Be the example. It can be something as small as trying a new thing at the restaurant but not with peanuts if you are allergic to them! Be bold but understand the challenges and your limitations. Be prepared!

Tweet, Like, Stumble, Comment, Digg, Pinterest, and otherwise share if you think someone else might like to read this.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist