Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law. Immanuel Kant
Once upon a time last week, Caleb experienced a thoroughly rotten day. He felt muddled, like his whole world was out of sorts. It wasn’t that anything particularly unfair happened. Everything was fine. You just wouldn’t know it by how Caleb reacted.
Earlier, when Caleb ran towards the slide for his forty-second ride, his dad called out that it was time to go. He didn’t even think about the fact that they’d been at the park for an hour, which was as long as they stayed on any day. Instead, Caleb whined, ‘I don’t wanna go home. I don’t hafta. I’m not gonna.’
That evening when he ate up all of his favourite mac-and-cheese, but left the vegetables all alone and piled up on the edge of his plate, his mother asked him to finish his dinner. Despite his knowing exactly how important it was to eat his vegetables, Caleb threw down his fork and wailed, ‘I don’t wanna eat the broccoli. I don’t hafta. I’m not gonna.’
Later when it came time to brush his teeth, even though they still felt a little furry from the mac-and-cheese and little bits of broccoli were caught in the spaces, Caleb ran from the bathroom and whinged, ‘I don’t wanna brush them. I don’t hafta. I’m not gonna.’
Now, you know and I know and even Caleb knew that things like going home, eating vegetables, and brushing teeth are normal parts of any day and not really worthy of complaint. In fact, when you take a moment and think about it, it’s nice to have such a thing as a home of our own, and vegetables to keep us healthy, and there’s something pretty cool about sliding one’s tongue across freshly brushed teeth. At the very least, it’s better than living in a box, getting sick, and having our teeth rot. But somehow, in the moment, Caleb wasn’t the least bit curious about the impact of his actions. He simply assumed that life was better whenever he didn’t have to do anything he didn’t feel like doing.
That is, he didn’t give his actions a thought until later when he was in bed. His mom kissed him on the head, went to the door, and then turned around.
‘Yes, mom,’ he replied.
‘I have a question for you.’
‘I wonder what it would be like if everyone acted like you did today?’ With those words, she turned off the light.
At first, lying in bed, Caleb stubbornly decided that if everyone acted like he had, it would be…great!
But then, after staring at the ceiling in his darkened room for a bit, he began to wonder, what would it be like if everyone acted like he had?
He imagined going through his day.
He thought about himself being in the kitchen for breakfast, filling up a big bowl with cereal and going to the fridge. Adding the milk was always the best part because there was so much sugar in the cereal, it changed from white to a sort of speckled pink. In his mind, Caleb opened the fridge door and looked on the middle shelf, the lower shelf, the top shelf, but couldn’t find the milk, which was strange because there was very little food in the fridge for it to hide behind. That’s when he imagined his dad walking into the room, humming happily to himself.
Caleb heard himself ask, ‘Dad, where’s the milk? I think we’re out.’
His dad stopped humming. He stamped his foot and whined, ‘I don’t wanna go grocery shopping. I don’t hafta. I’m not gonna.’
Thinking about what the cereal would taste like without milk, all gross and pasty, Caleb realized that he definitely didn’t want to wake up tomorrow to find his dad acting the same way he had.
Caleb set aside the cereal in his mind and imagined what might happen next.
He thought about it being time to leave for school and finding his mom sitting in the living room with her feet up, happily sipping a cup of coffee. Caleb heard himself ask, ‘Mom, aren’t we supposed to be leaving?’
His mom stuck out her lower lip and ran out of the room, wailing, ‘I don’t wanna drive to school. I don’t hafta. I’m not gonna.’
Okay, that didn’t turn out very well either. He imagined that maybe things would be better at school.
They weren’t because all of the teachers were acting just like he had. He looked into Ms Duffus’ class and heard her whinge, ‘They’re too hard. I’m not gonna do challenge words.’ He came across Mr Frater, sitting on the floor in the middle of the music room, ‘There are too many lines to remember, I’m not gonna do the opera.’ He discovered Mr Hawes, turning away a story book that his students wanted him to read, ‘If it’s not about Olivia, I’m not gonna read it.’
Then something occurred to Caleb in the darkness of his room. If tomorrow, everyone acted like he had today, it would be…horrible! Not just for him but for everyone.
He decided then and there – no more whining, wailing, or whinging for him. Tomorrow would be different, but what might different look like? Caleb stared at his ceiling, opened up his imagination, and got really curious about what might happen.
What do you think happened next day?