Do I Have To?

Do I have to go to bed…eat that for dinner…brush my teeth…take a shower…make my bed…clean my room?

As we have prepared to go back to school, I feel the “Do I have to…” questions have grown exponentially with my kids at home. My response is usually somewhere along the lines of: “you are free to choose, but you are not free of the consequences that come with your choices.”

Growing up my father taught me a similar idea. He taught my brother and I that most of the things we have to do in our lives fall into three “to do” categories. He classified our daily task as things we “have to do,” “ought to do,” and “want to do.” He would say that there are very few things in life do we “have to do,” and as we (my older brother and I) become men with purpose, we would find that there would be fewer “want to do” items in our lives. He taught us that the “ought to do” items would be the ones that define us. There are many things in the pursuit of being a great man that you “ought to do,” but most find they do not do them because they are not willing to sacrifice the “want to do” items in their lives. The “ought to do” items in our lives are those that help us live a life of service and help us give to others more than we take for ourselves.

This idea came up again this week at school. I recently gave a copy of one of my favorite books, Chop Wood, Carry Water, (by Joshua Medcalf) to a colleague to read. As he reported on his reading, he shared with me a couple of things that stood out to him. One of them was from a part of the book that I love. In the story, the idea of choice is discussed a great deal, but in one particular part of the story a mentor shares the following idea with a young man he is serving.

There the only thing you have to do in life is die. We all have to die at some point, but everything else is a choice.

There is a great difference in life between the things we need and the things we want. Just like there is a great difference between the things we “have to do,” “ought to do,” and “want to do.”

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The greatest freedom we can help those we serve understand is the freedom of choice. You choose your path, you choose your actions. Every second, every day we are making choices. How you collectively spend your time each day matters over time. You can make excuses about your circumstances, but often your circumstances arise because you have made many small choices that lead you there.

Ok, but what about situations we really cannot control? Those things that happen to us that push us in a different direction or impact us in a negative way… The question we must ask ourselves is: Do those things happen “to us” or do they happen “for us?” Even in situations that seem bleak and grim, you can still choose your attitude. You can decide how to respond. It is still a choice. You do not have to respond in a negative way to negative situations. It is your choice to do so and if it is your choice, you can pick your reaction.

Nothing can prevent us from learning and becoming better. In fact, difficult situations are often opportunities for new kinds of learning, even if they are not the kinds of learning we would have prefered. It is one of our highest responsibilities as educators to help equip those we serve with this mentality.

So, do you have to…? No, absolutely not. You do not have to do anything besides die. Everything is a choice. As you go throughout the week, try to pay attention to those choices of action and attitude. Make it a great day or not; the choice is yours!

Keep learning; keep growing; keep sharing!

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