It’s hard to do things you don’t want to do

The request was simple enough.  I’ve made the same request of my kids almost every day for the last few years.  “Please pick up the toys in the living room.”  They always eventually comply.  There are sometimes complaints, bargaining, and tears (theirs, not mine) but eventually, they pick up the toys.  When I made the request one evening last week, my 5 year old made an interesting observation.  Here’s how it went down:

  • Bracken: “I can’t pick up the toys tonight, Daddy”
  • Me (insert incredulous tone): “You can’t pick up the toys?”
  • Bracken: “No.  I can’t.  Not tonight.”
  • Me: “Hmm? Why not?” (In my memory, I’m cool and collected.  Bracken may have a slightly different recollection of the conversation.)
  • Bracken (utterly exasperated): “It’s too hard.”
  • Me: “Buddy, there are only a few toys out.  It’ll only take you 2 minutes to pick them up and you’ll be all done.  How could you think this is hard?”
  • Bracken (not understanding that my question was rhetorical): “Well daddy, It’s hard to do things that I just don’t want to do.”

There it is.  Wisdom from a 5 year old.  “It’s hard to do things that you just don’t want to do.”This nugget has stuck with me this week.  He’s right, of course.  It is hard to do things that you don’t want to do.  It doesn’t get easier as you get older.  One way of dealing with this is to simply say/believe that you just have to do things sometimes – even things that you really don’t want to.  If that’s my answer all the time (for myself, for Bracken, for my other kids, for my students), I think that I’ll end up missing an important pedagogic opportunity.  I wonder how I could help Bracken move towards a place where he is intrinsically motivated to pick up his toys.  I wonder how this might translate into other areas of my life and my classroom.  Do I want my students to do the work because I told them to, because they are scared of the consequences, because they are hoping for an A? No. I want them to want to do the work.  I want them to pour themselves into it in a way that will produce a quality product and ultimately a better world.  Is that too much to ask?

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