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Dirty Harry nailed it: 'A man's got to know his limitations'

People of faith produce an eye-popping amount of service and charitable funds for the world. Yet no matter how much we do, we feel ashamed we don't do more.
People of faith produce an eye-popping amount of service and charitable funds for the world. Yet no matter how much we do, we feel ashamed we don't do more.
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It’s Tuesday morning, and in a couple of hours, my column is due.

I’ve got nothing. I'm frozen up.

I think I'll write about writer’s block.

Unlike poets and novelists, newspaper columnists can’t afford the luxury of writer’s block. If you freeze up and can’t produce a column, there are 10 or 20 other writers waiting in the wings who can.

Besides, poet William Stafford once told me writer’s block wasn't real.

He said if you get blocked and can’t generate anything, it probably means your expectations are too high. Lower your expectations — and your standards — and forge ahead.

It makes me wonder if we tend to get “blocked” in other parts of our lives for the same reason. Our expectations for ourselves — and others — are just too high.

Is your marriage at a standstill?

Don’t expect so much. Expect less and forge ahead.

Is there a barrier between you and your child?

Lower your expectations. Things will loosen up.

And when it comes to writing, let’s be honest. If I expected every word that dribbled from my pen to sound like John Steinbeck, I couldn’t generate a grocery list.

In life and letters, we spend too much time trying to measure up and complaining when others don’t.

Some religions — the Jews, the Catholics, the Mormons, to name a few — have a guilt component. The bar for behavior is set pretty high. Catholic author Robert Stone explained it. He said: “We have to promise more than we can deliver, just to deliver what we do.”

The result is people of faith produce an eye-popping amount of service and charitable funds for the world. Yet no matter how much we do, we feel ashamed we don't do more.

It makes me think of an old Calvin Grondahl cartoon. In his drawing, an exhausted mom is lying on the bed, her eyes wide and wild, while her open closet displays a dozen different outfits, all emblazoned with Superman's “S.”

That’s not writer’s block, it’s “life block.”

And we all get it.

That mom needs to lower her expectations and press on. And if her family and others are disappointed she doesn’t do more, she should lower her expectations of their ability to empathize.

It’s not about “settling” for less.

It’s about embracing things as they are.

I remember the final scene from a Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” movie. The bad guy — an evil genius — has just blown himself to smithereens in his own car.

Harry looks in at the smoldering cadaver and says: “A man’s got to know to his limitations.”

Dirty Harry was no Dalai Lama.

But I submit, those are words are words to live by.

As for me:

John Steinbeck's legacy is safe.

Column submitted.

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com