What else can’t you do?

By Paul Schneidmill

Whenever I ask someone “How are you doing?” I always find it completely weird when their response is “I can’t complain.”  Some folk even get emphatic and expressive with that statement by prefacing their weird-to-me response with an “Oh,” as in “Oh, I can’t complain.”  Why is that response weird to me you may query…well, I have three reasons.  I’ll share them with you now in an unprioritized order:

Number 1. The response to my question is not true, i.e., it’s an L.I.E., because anyone can complain – no one with breath and the ability/capability of speech is incapable of complaining – complaining is one of the easiest things anyone can do; one does not need to be trained in the “art” of complaining (though I’ve actually met people who could definitely qualify as having mastered that art) and to do so requires no amount whatsoever of skill. 

Number 2. The response to my question does not remotely answer the question.  An “I can’t complain” response to a question asked regarding the well-being of the person asked, is like asking a politician if it’s raining (or any question for that matter) – the response you’d get would likely be a fully verbose dissertation designed to deflect or some type of thesis-defending statement (which I think might be the same thing…sometimes).   

Number 3. The response to my question means…well…I really don’t know what it means…I mean, in relation to what I asked: “How are you doing?” – what does or is “I can’t complain” supposed to mean?  What in the in the H  E  double L’s is that response supposed to convey?  It most assuredly doesn’t answer my question…it doesn’t inform me as to how one is doing – it gives me no barometer of frame of reference in the tee-ninchiest bit as to how one is doing figuratively, literally or otherwise.  It’s simply an evasive and misleading response (see Point 2 with emphasis on the politician segment).

Sooooooo, in my complete and undeniably self-evaluated quantification of wisdom, I have a developed a response to that particular response – “Oh yeah…what else can’t you do?

Imagine be asked a question in the vein of “What can’t you do?” in a myriad of communicative situations…like a job interview, or a juror qualification screening, or maybe a conversation concerning commitment in a relationship.

The thing about the word “can’t” in literally any setting, is that it’s almost always indicative of limitations.  There’s nothing wrong with people knowing their limits or limitations – I’m certainly not against that – I’m just not a promoter of accepting or readily addressing, i.e., publicly claiming and proclaiming them; because in many cases our limitations can be overcome, pushed out further…stretched out farther…

For example – if unable to do so now, we could totally learn how and achieve the ability to properly answer a simple question…….but if we can’t….we need to introspectively ask ourselves (wait for it…)

“What else can’t you do?”

© 2019 Paul Schneidmill All Rights Reserved

Email Paul: jehoiada@comcast.net

3 thoughts on “What else can’t you do?”

  1. Good point, Paul. That’s like my telling someone they can’t do something because it’s against the law. Unfortunately, they can, and they do. They SHOULDN’T, but they can. I often hear/read the misuse of “can” and “should.” As JD so perfectly said, I can complain, but won’t, because I’m blessed in more ways than I deserve.

  2. “Oh, I can’t complain” is an old cultural phase. Allow the old folks to ride it out but force young people to explain themselves.

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