When yours or someone’s behavior troubles you, you’ll tend to explore three possible interpretations of it. Here I’ll exemplify the three interpretations as applied to being overweight.

Can’t

“It would be in my interest to lose weight. Carrying this much fat is bad for my health. And yet, I just turn out to be one of those people born with a very unlucky metabolism. I’ve tried losing weight and can’t. It’s physically impossible. I wish I could and I would if I could. It’s the right thing to do, but since I can’t I just have to accept that I’m going to be fat. And the people around me ought not punish me for it. It’s no more my fault than any other handicap, and their disappointment in me is impotent to get me to change what can’t be changed.”

Won’t

“It’s in my interest and in my power to lose weight and yet I don’t. I indulge myself. I pig out. I have the will power to lose weight but I don’t exercise it. Despite the fact that being this fat damages my health, disgusts my spouse, and lowers my prospects of success at all sorts of things, I just won’t do what’s in my power to do. I can’t blame people for thinking I could do better. They’re right I could. But will I? Nope. The burden is on me and yet I refuse to accept the burden. But maybe if I admit that the problem is me I’ll eventually be motivated to get off my fat ass and do something about my fat ass.”

Shouldn’t

“It’s my bad luck to have been born into a culture that arbitrarily fetishizes leanness, and oppresses the overweight. Even “overweight” is evidence of their oppression. Over, by what standard? There are plenty of other cultures that don’t harbor this prejudice against weight. There are cultures in which I would be seen as beautiful. People’s intolerance of me is no different from any other prejudice against diversity. They want me to think I’m at fault but I’m not. I’m just different. I should be defiantly proud of what I am. I could change and would change if I should but I shouldn’t. People just have to learn to be more tolerant and appreciative of diversity.

So which is the right interpretation? In fact, each could be. We do well to wonder whether we can’t or shouldn’t change, not just about weight, but about anything we or the people around us do that produces unsatisfying results.

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