Lies We Tell Children Part 2


“You can accomplish anything you put your mind to!”  This is the same as the lie in my last post “If you have a dream, and believe in yourself, and never give up, then you can do anything!”

Obviously neither version of this lie is true, yet audiences rise to their feet and applaud at the conclusion of a rousing and inspirational speech given by a person who overcame great odds, broke through impossible barriers, or ignored all the people who said “you can’t” and did it anyway.

We approve of this message for kids and hope that it will inspire them to follow their dreams and to persevere through hard times because “when the going gets tough…..”  But does this lie really foster drive, persistence, dedication, determination, and courage?  Do kids work harder and give up less often when they believe in this lie?  If so then maybe it is worth telling.

The alternative is to tell kids the truth.  But the truth is not nearly as dramatic and therefore less fun.

The truth is that each of us possesses a set of genetic, environmental, intellectual, and social limits or maximum potentials.  My genetic limits represented by my height, body make up and athletic ability, will probably not allow me to win the NBA slam dunk competition but if I worked hard enough, believed in myself, and really put my mind to it, maybe I could have touched the rim.

Personally I find discovering my limits within the tasks and dreams I choose to pursue incredibly rewarding.  I am under no allusions that I can do anything I put my mind to, but I know I can get better at the things I do through the same kind of hard work, desire, belief in myself, and determination the motivational speakers talk about.  But would children (and adults for that matter) be inspired by this message?

Several people commented yesterday on Lies We Tel Children Part 1.  I would highly recommend you read these comments if you are interested in this topic.  The replies deal with such things as cultural perspectives, greater truths, realistic goals, and the danger or equating accomplishing our dreams with happiness.  There is some great insight there!

In my next post I will look at another lie we tell children.  We all know this lie.  We have all heard it many times.  Most of us are probably inspired by it,  but if we all followed it, the world would descend into chaos!

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    • Brandon C.
    • January 31st, 2010

    Hey Tim,

    I don’t think that “You can accomplish anything you put your mind to” is necessarily a bad thing to say to. I think that it can be used a great motivational tool. If a person says well i want to be an Astronaut. That dream can motivate them to do well in school take lots of math and science. In the end they may not become an Astronaut but doing well in school they probably now have a better chance to get a job they will enjoy.

    That being said, I think that if one is going to use that line as way to motivate it has to be monitored. I can’t say it and go away then come back later find out the dream didn’t happen and ask why the failed. If I use it I have to stay to see the hard work that was (or wasn’t) put in to achieve that goal. Then from what I see in the effort that was put into getting to the goal I can have a response to there achieving or not achieving their goal.

    So i think over all this line should be used not as setting a single destination point in life but, as a tool motivate during the journey

    • Well said Cuz! You are right on the money!

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