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Matthew McConaughey's book 'Just Because' is judgment-free

Random House

When he was a kid, actor Matthew McConaughey remembers always wanting to be older. But now at 53 years old, he wishes he hadn't been that way. And he wants his own kids not to be in a hurry to grow up too soon.

McConaughey is the father of a 15-year-old, 13-year-old and 10-year-old. He has a sense of the day-to-day social pressures his kids can experience. And he explores this topic in his new children's book, Just Because.

In an interview with Morning Edition, he said that while it's a picture book, his couplets are designed to spark conversation between readers young and old, like they have for his own family.

"Just because you threw shade doesn't mean that I'm out of the sun. And just because they shut me down doesn't mean I have not won," he writes in Just Because.

"You know, this throwing shade, or trolling, or negative response or comment on something you thought was cool, or true, doesn't mean that it steals your joy," McConaughey told A Martinez. "Does it mean that that has to affect your whole day or your whole mood?"

A condensed version of A Martinez's interview with Matthew McConaughey follows. It has been edited for clarity.

A Martinez: Why Just Because?

Matthew McConaughey: Just because when we're young, we like to do things because we can, even if we don't want to or need to. We grow older and we get a little more mature. And we start to measure our decisions, not based on just if we can. But we ask ourselves, we consider, well, I know I can. But do I want to or need to. That's smart. That's maturity. That's evolution. But I just wanted to remind the kid in all of us that 'because you can' can still be a good reason to do something. And not in a foolish way. But I think all the couplets in this piece, Just Because, it's saying there's not one absolute, basically. It's showing all the contradictions that we all have with ourselves, with each other and understanding human relationships. It's just saying just because it's one thing doesn't mean it can't be another. It's that both are true. It really is an inspiration from a favorite verse of mine from the Bible – Mathew 6:22. If thine eye is single, thy whole body will be full of light. Just because takes away a lot of judgment and shows you the paradox of living.

Before I opened the book, I had my granddaughter read it by herself. She's about to turn ten. She had a lot of questions, but there were two things in particular. One was, 'Just because I lied doesn't mean that I'm a liar.' And the other one was, 'Just because I did it again doesn't mean I don't regret it.' I had to really think about that. Because those are kind of grown-up themes that I had to try and explain to a nine-year-old.

Yeah. I mean, well, that's the idea that these will be a conversation. And I had the same conversation with my kids. Just because I lie doesn't mean I'm a liar. That's a really cool one that I learned when I was about ten. A friend of mine had fibbed to me. I called him a liar. And I saw him get completely defensive – like I had just cast a nasty character trait across his whole being. And he was overcome with guilt and frustration and confusion and then anger. And there was no way really out of it. We were not going to lead to him saying, 'I'm sorry. Please forgive me.' And then move on. And what I learned from that was, oh, don't ever label someone if they did something one time. Don't label them the liar. That's a character trait. You say you lied to me. Why did you lie to just lie to me? That person, when you tell someone, which I later went to this friend and said, 'Hey, sorry about calling you a liar. But you lied to me.' And then he was able to go, 'Okay, you're talking about that specific event. Yes, you're right. My bad. Here's why I did it. I'm sorry.' And we came back together. But, boy, there was no coming back together when I labeled him as a liar. And so that's an example across the board that we have to watch labeling people. There's things people do in certain circumstances or situations. That does not mean it's a full-on character defect of them. Nor do we have a right to label them that way.

What have your kids said about the book? You have a 15-year-old, a daughter who's 13 and another son who's ten. What have they said about the book?

[My] daughter loves the pictures. She's very visual. We've talked about a lot of these couplets in different ways for, I guess I didn't even know it, but for years. They told me I've been kind of trying to father some of these things into them. One of the couplets is, 'Just because you threw shade doesn't mean that I'm out of the sun. And just because they shut me down doesn't mean I have not won.' You know, this throwing shade, or trolling, or negative response or comment on something you thought was cool, or true, doesn't mean that it steals your joy. Does it mean that that has to affect your whole day or your whole mood? ? Doesn't mean that you go from, aw, man, to sadness, to despair. Watch that. Because, talking about the social media world, they will pile on. And then all of sudden, you can start piling on yourself. So we've had some cool conversations about these about different couplets in our family. And we still are. I'm finding that after I'm having conversations with my kids about this book, I'm still continuing conversations with myself, conversations with my wife, conversations with other people about some of these couplets.

This book, it's more than just a children's book. It's a children and parents book to read together. Is that what you're hoping that this book does? That [it] brings these two generations together to understand each other better?

That's it. To understand each other. To understand ourselves. To understand humanity. People, life, living. And, you know, there's a poetry to living. There is innuendo and context. And we're so dead head read on trying to understand absolutes and make things certain in black and white. And we miss half the picture a lot of times when we do that. I know it's an easier and safe place to go, just to make a decision. This is just how it is and it won't change. That's just not really true. And so, yeah, a conversation piece between parents and the children, back and forth. And each person, mother, father, grandmother, brother, sister, child is going to have a different personal understanding of what each couplet means to them.

The broadcast interview was produced by Mansee Khurana.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Reena Advani is an editor for NPR's Morning Edition and NPR's news podcast Up First.