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?