“Have To” Like This Story 

 

Maggie and I were having coffee in the bakery that used to be the library of Northeast Portland – the neighborhood in which birthed Ramona and the pantheon of Beverly Cleary’s characters. Maybe pantheon is too strong of a word.

 

Maggie is ROTB’s volunteer publicist. The monthly cup of coffee I buy her should be valued at thousands of dollars. It’s $3 plus tip.

 

Her laptop, my phone, her phone, a clipboard, pens, and markers clutter the medium-sized table between us. She clicks on keys and data from my years of posting to FaceBook speak.

 

I listen as she decodes the data:

  • “People like the posts where you start with a story.”
  • “Your work on and coining of the word anxcitement – while you might teach it in person very well, and while you might like it – didn’t work as a written-word piece.”
  • “The people look favorably upon the online High Holy Day service.”
  • Fear, anger, and mourning are top categories.”

 

My cafe breve had me thinking fast.

 

“I don’t like it,” I told Maggie. I leaned back in my chair, as though the physical distance between me and the offending computer with its “likes” and “click-through rates.” I don’t like data being my boss.

However, I realize something as I sat there with my hands on the back of my head: even if the darn word “data” is plural and even if I don’t like it: the data are right.

 

I didn’t like the idea that my preaching should be regulated by click-through rates.

 

Data don’t lie.

 

I knew I didn’t have to follow the path before me.
I knew I could ignore it.

 

But, the data are right. The data don’t lie.

 

I reach back to the table and attempt to ingest the foam at the mug’s bottom.

 

 

 

*The lesson*

 

“There is a massive difference between HAVE TO and GET TO.”

 

A week or so before Thanksgiving while teaching high-schoolers, I always gave my classes an outside-the-box assignment. By that point, my students had figured out that, while I was charged with teaching mathematics and they were learning mathematics, our classroom was about life.

 

Here are the words I said:

Your assignment for the rest of the day and for tomorrow is to notice whenever you say the words “have to.” Replace the word HAVE with the word GET – and instead say the words “get to.”

 

You “get to” push your seats in when you leave my classroom. You “get to” go to chemistry class. You “get to” take that test in Mr. Z.’s class. You “get to” be as miserable as you want.

 

And, finally, my dear ones, you do not “have to” do this assignment. You “get to” do it.

 

This is an exercise about acceptance.

Acceptance. Acceptance. Acceptance.

Another article and another exercise about acceptance.

 

 

 

*Back to me*
 

I don’t have to follow the trends in the data.

I don’t.

 

And I really don’t like “having to.”

 

I like my own autonomy.

 

So this linguistic substitution comes in handy.

 

I don’t have to start my articles with a story, I don’t have to write about the topics you like, and I don’t have to follow the trends.

 

But I get to.

 

 

 

*Your turn*

 

You try it.

 

Your assignment for the rest of the day and tomorrow is to notice whenever you say the words “have to.” Replace the word HAVE with the word GET – and instead say the words “get to.”

 

You “get to” be courteous to the next person with whom you interact. You “get to” go to that thing that you’ve been putting off. You “get to” commute home.

 

And, finally, my dear ones, you do not “have to” do this assignment. You “get to” do it.

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