The battle cry “Just Do It” turns thirty this year. An athletic-shoe company ad slogan, those three little words spawned many interpretations. Some took it as rousing: yes, improving myself is that simple! Some took it as derisive: get off your ass and stop making excuses already! Whatever the intent or the inflection, it became a cultural refrain. I remember it well.

I’m thirty years older now. Navigating the rapids of those decades, I’ve had abundant opportunity to lift or lash myself with the wildly variant nuances of Just Do It. Now I’ve entered a new era, and I’m finding the counterpoint mantra useful.

Just Don’t Do It.

This new mindset has become so meaningful to me that I’ve chalked it on a small blackboard that stays next to me as I work and write every day. It has nothing to do with athletic shoes or exercise, but it does have to do with exertion and exhaustion. It came to me when I finally realized how much I’ve invested over the years trusting and giving second chances to people I seemed to believe were owed trust, not because they’d earned it, but only because they’d been in my life for a long time. Just Don’t Do It is a gift of self-care I’m giving to myself: just don’t trust that person I’ve been close to for decades when there’s a long history of him or her being unworthy of my trust. You likely have people like this in your life too. The relative who questions your parenting decisions, nay-says your child’s autism. The friend who’s always trying to one-up you, gives lump-in-the-velvet-glove compliments, or makes jokes at the expense of you or your child then accuses you of having no sense of humor. The big-eyed, concerned coworker who pushes you to reveal “just between us” difficulties in your life, then “accidentally” mentions it to others.

Proximity is not entitlement. When you trust this person, whether kin, friend or frenemy, with your most tender feelings or experiences, you do it knowing that you will be disregarded, denigrated. You will know the sting of instant regret, because it’s not a new feeling. You know better. So, what’s the impetus to keep hurting and disappointing yourself this way? Old habit, hard to break? Hope, that it will be different this time? (Cue the classic definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.) That stubborn belief in how things “should” be?

Just don’t do it.

This doesn’t mean you can’t in some measure like, enjoy, or get along with the people within the circle of your life who may be prickly. But you set the limits, draw the boundary. Oddly, they may not even notice that you’ve redrawn your parameters. People change, cultures change, communities change. Age and experience change us. Deafness isn’t always a condition of damage to the inner ear. But perhaps it’s always a condition of damage to our nerves. Or nerve. Deafness may not always be physiological. We reach a point where we don’t want to hear, don’t want to hear yet more nay-saying, more insult, more hubris, more “humorous” sarcasm. So we don’t. We deflect. We suppress. We focus inward and respond to others from that point of self-focus. And when we do, do the untrustworthy even notice that we, their old friends or fam of many decades, quietly begin to withhold, divert, deflect?

Often not. They don’t know what they don’t know, what we don’t tell them. So just don’t do it. Don’t give your trust to the untrustworthy, that shiny—glaring—untrustworthiness that “shouldn’t” be. Be at peace, not bitter. That is the new “as it should be.”


©2018 Ellen Notbohm
Photo: geralt on