The question is #045; should we?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2004

I had the dubious pleasure of finding out the other day that my son can turn his eyelids inside out.

"See what I can do?" the 11-year-old said.

"Yes, you can do that," I said, holding the gag reflex at bay. "But the question is - should you?"

Now despite my four years at a denominational private college, and despite almost 41 years as a Christian, I in no way proclaim myself to be any kind of religious scholar. Yet, that one phrase, one of those things you inherit from your mother and swear you'll never use (a lot like her hot water bottle or fondue pot), sums up the whole concept of sin and morality for me.

Just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you should.

This concept can be applied on many levels. Just be cause a nation is strong, well-educated and well-armed, and it can oppress the native population, deny them of their homestead and rights, and force them to live in harsh and inhospitable areas, should it? (And no, I'm not talking about the Palestine/Israel thing. I'm talking about the Cherokee and other indigenous peoples.)

Just because we can blow up the world five times, should we?

We can send men to Mars, but should we?

The dilemma is also found on a personal level, both serious and frivolous. Just because I can smoke four packs of cigarettes a day, should I? Of course not. (I'm down to less than two now and slowly breaking the nicotine chains as I go.)

Just because we can wear something, should we? I got a taste of that back when Mom was still alive. I'd finally lost about 80 pounds and went to her house, where I stored all my clothes from the days before pregnancies began layering - and layering - on the insulation. I pulled them out and tried them on gleefully- they fit!

"Look, Mom, I can wear them!"

"Yes, but the question is, should you?" she calmly replied.

Keep in mind, these clothes were from waaay before the pregnancy poundage. As in Flashdance before. As in that nebulous and horrible era where disco met punk and preppy interfered. I looked at the polyester blousson Swiss dot bright yellow top with the puffy three-quarter length sleeves I'd pulled on, complete with knit waistband and way too much cleavage for someone who never had any, not even when pregnant. And even though it fit, it did not fit well. It was not a shirt designed for anyone who had ever seen the production side of re-populating the earth, or for anyone over, say, 16.

I'm surprised Mom hid her own gag reflex so well.

Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should.

Of course, there are times when it does mean you should. We can give a measly buck or two a week to the United Fund,

but should we? Of course. We can eat less, we can exercise more, we can

open doors for the elderly and visit the sick. But should we? Of course.

Some of those situations leave the realm of black and white easy answers, and in that case, each time, the question has to be asked anew, and studied individually. Small town newspapers can report suicides and attempted suicides, but should they? Most of the time, no, we do not. There is enough private pain and grief involved without making it public. If the person is a notable citizen, or it takes place publicly, the rules change and again, we study each incident on its unique merits.

Driving down the road, an animal runs out in front of the car. We can swerve to miss it, but should we? Not if there is another car in the other lane. Not if means risking a human life.

In most of my life choices, I've discovered that by the time I stop and think "I can, but should I?" the issue has either resolved itself or become painfully clear. (Especially when it comes to clothes - it seems to be a given that if I have to ask myself the question, the answer is a resounding "No!")The problem is, we get intoxicated by ability. We can, we can, we can. It's is the drug running through NASA's veins right now.

Both "potential" and "potent" come from a root word meaning "power." What we need to realize is that the real power lies in the fact that we have the choice, not the ability. We can blow up the world - we choose not to. The potential is there, but the power is here - within us, as soon as we recognize the difference between can and should.