OR: Will Power
I was thinking that the more boundaries we put down around something, the more of a magnetic pull the thing we are trying to avoid has. The boundaries keep us thinking about this thing and how badly we want it as well as how satisfying we think it would be.
My favorite story about Willpower comes from one of the books in my favorite series about friendship: The Frog and Toad books, by Arnold Lobel. I wish everyone who is reading this post would go check out Frog and Toad Together from the library and read the chapter called “Cookies”. Since that is not likely to happen, I wish I could copy the whole story here, but I am afraid that might not be legal. So, I’ll compromise and summarize the story, quoting parts of it, but hope that maybe it will make you want to go read the whole story for yourself. Find a kid somewhere to read the whole book to. It will make you both happy.
As a little aside, last year as part of a speech class my sixth grade son was in, the students were asked to memorize a selection from a young children’s book and recite it dramatically. As they could do this particular speech with a friend, my son and another boy in the class chose to present this story. They did a great job, and I never tired of hearing the story as they practiced. It is still delightful.
So, in this chapter called “Cookies”, Toad bakes some delicious chocolate chip cookies and takes them to Frog’s house to share. The cookies are so good that they cannot seem to stop eating them, even though they both keep affirming they should stop after “one last cookie”.
“We must stop eating!” cried Toad as he ate another.
“Yes,” said Frog, reaching for a cookie, “we need will power.”
“What is will power?” asked Toad.
“Will power is trying hard not to do something that you really want to do,” said Frog.
“You mean like trying not to eat all of these cookies?” asked Toad.
So, Frog comes up with the idea of putting the cookies away in a box. But Toad points out that all they would have to do is open the box. Frog continues to come up with boundaries they can place between themselves and the cookies and for each one, Toad brings up how easy that boundary would be to override.
After Frog takes the box of cookies, tied up with a string and puts it up on a high shelf, the dialogue continues:
“But we can climb the ladder and take the box down from the shelf and cut the string and open the box,” said Toad.
“That is true,” said Frog. Frog climbed the ladder and took the box down from the shelf. He cut the string and opened the box.
Frog took the box outside. He shouted in a loud voice, “HEY BIRDS, HERE ARE COOKIES!”
Birds came from everywhere. They picked up all the cookies in their beaks and flew away.
“Now we have no more cookies to eat,” said Toad sadly. “Not even one.”
“Yes,” said Frog, “but we have lots and lots of will power.”
“You may keep it all, Frog,” said Toad. “I am going home now to bake a cake.”
In the end, willpower doesn’t cut it. As I said in the original post in this series, as soon as the law is laid down, the red carpet is rolled out for the loophole. The boundaries, themselves, which are designed to stop us from doing wrong or keep us doing right, seem instead to keep our focus on the very thing we are trying so desperately to avoid. And the more we are focused on that thing, the harder it becomes to resist or avoid it.