This I Believe

Tim - Jacksonville, Illinois
Entered on July 7, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: legacy
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We don’t do that

My childhood was woven and fashioned by the governing moral fabrics of love, honesty, faith, responsibility and the one oft-repeated mantra of my father, four simple words that defined parameters of the permissible realm of thought and behavior: “We don’t do that.”

For example, when I used a bad word, my father would evenly respond, “We don’t do that.”

When I carried my chocolate dessert from the kitchen into the white-carpeted living room, “Timmy, we don’t do that,” came my father’s voice.

When I hit my brother or pouted about losing a game, once again, he would gently remind, “Hey, we don’t do that.”

Based on the prohibitive nature of the words, you might think my childhood was ultra confining. Quite contrarily, my childhood was a large sheet of paper upon which I was handed shapes, colors and rhythms and instructed to create. The fact is, like a child, I needed to be made aware of the paper’s edges and my father’s tutelage made those limits clear.

I’ve observed parents today who try to reason with their children, who try to understand their children, who bend over backwards attempting to explain how or why their children should behave a certain way. In spite of their good, sophisticated intentions, I might offer them the simple words my father offered me: “Listen, kid, we don’t do that.” End of discussion.

As I grew older, my father’s words lingered in thematic variations,

When I was discouraged about losing a run for student body president in high school, Dad was there. “You know, we don’t get down on ourselves like that.”

When I spouted vengeful words after a painful, college heartbreak, my dad consoled, “Come on, we don’t talk like that.”

By defining who we weren’t and what we didn’t do as a family, little did I know Dad was modeling how we lived, who we were and who I was to become.

Though I am not yet a father, as a teacher, Dad’s words have proven to be an invaluable tool in my classroom: “You know Patrick, maybe students in other classrooms do that, but here in this classroom, we’re a different kind of class. We don’t do that.”

I’m sure physiologists could find fault in my father’s philosophy. They might say this mentality, this conditioning, limits personal development, thereby stifling autonomy while contributing to a systematic “groupthink.”

Just imagine, though, how much more we could be and oh, what we could achieve if we understood where we weren’t supposed to be and what we weren’t supposed to do! Examine one person who has the courage to proclaim, “World, we don’t do that!” and witness a person with conviction, compassion, and character.

G.K. Chesterton once compared the earthly condition of a Christian to that of a child on a playground. But not just any playground-a fenced in playground.

This I believe: Knowing one’s boundaries leads to knowing oneself.

Striving for that kind of knowledge is most certainly one thing we ought to do.