Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do!

Even if you’re not a Lost fan, Locke speaks for all of us.

There’s nothing like being inspired by someone who refuses to be told what they cannot do. It really can move you.

I went to a conference today in a chilly city gripped by the now infamous polar vortex, looking for that inspiration. I didn’t find it.

So I took a cab across town to meet an old friend at a nearby college that begins with “H” and thinks quite highly of itself. They even had a fireplace in the cafeteria. It was pretty inspiring.

But it was the cab ride that captured me. When I’m in foreign capitals, I love chatting up the cabbies. I find so much about the city I’m visiting, as well as their countries of origin, their language, their family stories, their sports teams, and sometimes their drama. It grounds me.

Jean Patrick is from Haiti. He now lives in Boston, the city I was visiting. I asked him why his cab didn’t have the thick glass between him and the passengers. He told me he didn’t want it. I asked if he was afraid of being robbed or worse. He said that “whatever happens happens and I cannot change that.” I pushed him. He told me about his friend who ended up in a wheelchair after getting shot for confronting a ride over six bucks. I answered that it sounded like a defense of the plastic wall, not against it. He said, “No, the plastic wall gives you a false belief that you are safe. You are never safe. If they want to rob me, they will rob me. Plastic wall, no plastic wall. I have guys show me their guns to my face and say that they’re going to take everything. I tell them there’s nothing I could do to stop them. They put their guns away and tell me I’m okay. Would a plastic wall do that?” I sat back in the plastic covered seat. He was right. Of course, it was reverse psych 101, but who could practice it in circumstances like that? No one could tell him what he could not do.

Jean Patrick was off the charts on emotional intelligence. When you are afraid, be it in the classroom, the boardroom, the parent meeting, how many of us allow ourselves to be told what we cannot do? How many of us put up the plastic wall? You’ve been burned so many times, held (figuratively of course) at gunpoint, so that you put up the divider, the barrier. Jean Patrick took his down. I could have reached right over and taken anything. He even told me he couldn’t stop me if I didn’t pay. It was so liberating that I had no choice but to follow his lead. No one could tell Jean Patrick what he could not do. I asked him if he wanted to speak at my conference. He laughed.

I handed him his fare and a large tip before I got out of the cab to wish him well. “I’m off to be inspired again, Jean Patrick,” I said. He laughed and looked at me. “Then you better get going,” he smiled as he drove off, without looking back.

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