Years ago I heard a speaker say, “Never ever ‘should’ on yourself or others.” Hillary and I have both used that expression a lot ever since, but recently I have noticed that the word still shows up quite often in my vocabulary. Indeed, last week Hillary mentioned something she should do, and I very wisely (and nauseatingly) observed, “There are no shoulds; only choices and consequences.” Hillary re-phrased her statement in a more empowering way and I emphatically responded, “Well, that’s how you should say it!” We looked at each other for a split second and then simultaneously burst out laughing. It is a challenge to speak English and not use that word!
Since then I’ve had my ears tuned (they sound much better now) for the word and it’s amazing not only how often it comes up but also in how many ways. It’s also amazing how judgmental and disempowering the word often is, and how when we use it, we almost always really mean something else. In paying attention to the word, I’ve noticed that as soon as it’s used, it’s as if all the air gets immediately sucked out of the room, assuming it’s said in a room.
Shoulds are so ubiquitous and so deleterious to our spiritual unfolding that I plan to write my next book about them. I’ll lay out a general overview in this post and get more specific about some of the examples below in the next few posts.
Sometimes it’s pretty innocuous, such as in, “I should be home by 11” or “This should do the trick.” In those cases, we’re making a statement about what we expect, and it’s no big deal. Unfortunately, that’s not all we use it for.
We should on ourselves when we believe we’re not measuring up in some way, as in “I should be richer (happier, thinner, smarter, more enlightened).” My gosh, it’s one thing to acknowledge areas in which we might choose to grow or improve and another to judge ourselves for these “imperfections!” I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single time I even thought about self-growth or self-improvement while I was in a place of shame or blame or guilt or negative self-judgment. This is perhaps the shoulding that is most detrimental to our self-worth.
We also should on ourselves in regards to our choices; both those we’ve already made and those we’ve yet to make. The former goes something like this: “I shouldn’t have done this; I should have done that instead.” Yikes. Not only is this type of shoulding judgmental and disempowering, it has us living in the past. And, while we’re busy complaining or being resentful about the choice we’ve made, it stops us from doing what we can to make that choice work.
When we’re faced with a choice, “I should do ___” is just plain not helpful. What are we basing that should on? Usually, it’s based on what society might dictate, or what our mother might say, or what others might expect of us. Even if it’s the choice we’d prefer to make based on our core values and intentions, why say “should?” My ego, the spoiled teenager that it is, hears that I should do something and tends to want to do exactly the opposite!
The root of the word should means “to be under an obligation.” Do I have a greater obligation than to be true to myself? Is there a better criteria for my choices than my own core values, which tend to create win-win situations for all involved? When I say I should do something, it tends to rule out all other possibilities, as if I don’t have a choice. So in all the above cases of shoulding on myself, I’m working on replacing “I should” with “I choose.”
Finally, I do a great deal of shoulding on others as well. “He/She/They/The world should____ (be more grateful or more considerate or more like me, know better, give him or medal, string him up, not be so _____, etc.). Talk about judgmental! Once I have shoulded on you, it’s an inevitable and easy step to go ahead and judge you, blame you, impose my reality upon you and attempt to fix you. As with all cases of should-itis, these shoulds keep me in my head, they solidify the veil of separation between us and they effectively prevent me from loving you.
When I should on myself or on you, it’s a quick ticket out of my heart. Perhaps there really are no shoulds; only choices and consequences. So it behooves me to pay attention to when it comes out of my mouth (or better yet, to when it’s about to come out of my mouth) and change it to “I choose.” That’s what I’m focusing on lately, and I invite you to join me. I’m also focusing on lovingly reminding people when I hear them use the word that perhaps they’d choose to rephrase their statement. And, most of the time, I’ve remembered to not say, “You shouldn’t say should!”
And if that’s all we remember, that’s more than enough for now.