Nathanael Garrett Novosel, January 17 2024

Can vs. Should

One of the all-time great movie quotes comes from Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park:

"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

I use this quote or my personal variation ("Just because I can do it doesn't mean I should do it...") frequently because when you are a highly capable human being, you need to make judgment calls all the time as to what is worth doing or not. These decisions include whether you should do it or leave it to someone whose role it is, whether you should do the thing that is good for you in the long term versus the thing that feels good in the moment, and whether you should help someone in need (because they truly need help) or not (because they're actually taking advantage of you and could do it themselves). The decisions are up to you and aren't always easy to make.

The decision between "can" and "should"—i.e., the freedom to do something vs. it being the right thing to do—can be very difficult. One example is when a person has to decide between doing work themselves or taking more time getting someone else to do it. I've seen both sides of this personally: I always do something myself if it would take the same or more effort on my part than to try to get someone else to do it, and I've seen people write long e-mails taking more time than the action being requested to avoid doing something themselves. You make every decision trying to understand the pros and the cons so that you get what you want and need in life.

As such, there are a few ways to evaluate your options so that you make the right decision in these situations:

There are likely more, but it's very important that you ask yourself whether you should do something or not just because you're able to. Freedom is a great thing to have, and it's wonderful to be able to do whatever you want to do in life. But just because you can doesn't mean you should, so consider the life decisions you make carefully to make sure that whatever you choose ends up being the right thing for you and not just something in a fleeting moment that "seemed like a good idea at the time" only for you to regret it later.

Written by

Nathanael Garrett Novosel


Previous Just This One Time
Next Does Everything Happen for a Reason?