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Can't vs. Don't

Monday, January 27, 2014

Somewhere in a post on a message board today someone made a comment that really struck me. The comment was that you can say "I can't eat that" or you can say "I don't eat that", and that those two ideas were very different.

Those two statement convey a lot about the attitude and the empowerment of the speaker, don't they? If you say that you "can't" eat something, it implies that you are not allowed to. Now possibly you cannot eat something for a medical reason, but generally when we use the word we say something like, "Oh I can't eat that; it's not on my diet," The only thing keeping you from eating it is an arbitrary set of rules that you can easily decide not to follow. On the other hand, if you say, "I don't eat that." You are the one setting the rules. You are in charge. You are making choices. It's a much more dynamic statement.

The words have similar meanings in other contexts. "I can't find the time to go to the gym." vs "I don't find the time to go to the gym." In the first statement your inability to find time to go to the gym is blamed on vague universal forces, while in the second, you are taking ownership of your choices.

How many things do we think we can't do, that we really just don't do?

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    very good blog, I am going to try this out this weekend. thanks!
    1335 days ago
  • ADZY86
    So true! What a great way of looking at it. It also helps avoid the food-pushers/(intentional) saboteurs. If you say 'I can't eat that dessert' they (well my friends anyway) usually respond with 'Oh go on, of course you can, just this once, live a little'. If you say 'I don't eat that' they are much more likely to leave you be. One of my friends has celiac and when she says 'I don't eat that' no one bats an eyelid. I'm going to try this. Thanks.
    1335 days ago
  • JUNEAU2010
    I have to watch this terminology regarding exercise more than for food. Thanks for the good reminder.
    1335 days ago
  • HHB4181

    I usually try to stick to the 'I don't eat that'
    1336 days ago
    Yeppers! Totally agree with all that. I've even had friends and family (who know I am striving to live healthy) say, "Oh, I guess you can't eat that?" and I always say, "No - I can eat ANYTHING I WANT, but I choose not to eat that." BIG DIFFERENCE.
    1336 days ago
    That is a very good point. I'm going to try to use "don't" instead of "can't" more often and own my decisions...thank you!
    1336 days ago
  • MUFFIY831
    Very true, and a great point.

    I find that argument particularly true in a vegan context too. I have had people say to me pretty regularly, "Oh I forgot, you can't eat this" and I'll respond, "I *could* but I choose not to."
    1336 days ago
    So true!!! Very empowering!
    1336 days ago
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