You Shouldn’t Do Should

Can we banish a world from our vocabulary? I would like to do so. I would like to get rid of the word should.

Okay, maybe I am being a bit hasty. There are after all a number of definitions for should. If you are calling home saying your flight should come in at 6 p.m. you are merely giving fair warning: it may not actually arrive on time. Given some of my recent travel experiences, 6 p.m. might be 3 p.m. the next day. However, I do not like the word when used to give self-imposed guilt trips. When used this way there are usually apron strings attached.

I have been noticing that in general women use should in this context a lot more than men. I am not sure why this is true. Nevertheless, I can speculate. Maybe it is because men are better at doing what they want. Or perhaps men are better at concealing their feelings. Whatever. But when you hear the word, you or the person uttering it is probably parroting their mother or father.

You should make your bed every day. You should brush your teeth after meals. You should exercise every day. You should take your vitamins in the morning. You should not eat too much fatty food. Should means you are expected to live up to someone else’s standard.

Why are you letting these people dictate your life? Let us try a more benign word instead. How about could? Could is should without the guilt trip. Yes, I could make my bed today. However, it will be just as clean and comfortable tonight if I do not want to make it. I could exercise today, but it is not necessary to do it every day. Therefore, I will watch TV instead. When you use could instead of should you are saying you are a grown up. You are affirming that you are fully capable of making decisions for yourself. When you say should you are being manipulated.

As an ex-Catholic I know all about should. When I grew up you sure knew from religious class that you should go to Mass every Sunday. At one time, it was a mortal sin to miss Mass without a priest’s okay. (I guess it was demoted to a venial sin.) I also knew I should never have sex before marriage. In school, I knew I should get all straight A’s. (I usually succeeded but I boy was I ashamed to bring anything less. I mean my face would turn beet red when I handed over my report card.) In fact, anything that gave me any real pleasure was something that was frowned upon. Apparently, I was born to be miserable.

I am sure I still live at least partially in the land of the “shoulds”. As a parent, I am busy making sure that my daughter also lives in the land of the shoulds. She should bring home all A’s too. But she rarely does, much to my consternation. She seems to be better at keeping the parental flypaper from sticking. My wife, bless her soul, is firmly entrenched in should-world. Some days it seems like every other word out of her mouth. “Oh, I should grade these student projects,” she will bemoan. Instead, she is playing computer games.

And that’s okay in my book. True I am not too enamored with people who make commitments to other people and don’t keep them. So were she to not plan for her next lesson I might even think her guilt trip was earned. I know that she will grade those projects at some time when it is more convenient for her. But usually when she uses the word should, it’s for a lot of silly stuff. She should do laundry on Tuesday. Instead, some weeks it is done on Wednesday or Thursday. Hey, it is okay as long as we do not run out of clean clothes. We should have dinner on the table by six o’clock. Some nights it is more like eight o’clock. Yes, I do prod her from time to time, but only because she insists on cooking and I am getting hungry. However, if it is an hour or two late on most nights I do not mind. Moreover, if she is busy doing something else that she really likes or is focused on it’s not the end of the world. I know how to cook for myself.

So should means more when it affects other people. Yes, if you are a parent you darn well should get your kids their shots when they need them. Actually, you must get them. Nevertheless, if it affects only you or no one really cares one way or the other, just turn off the guilt trip. You do not need it. If instead you are articulating these feelings to the rest of the family or significant others then we don’t need to hear it either. All we are hearing is the subtext: there is something wrong with me. I am flawed. I did not live up to my parent’s expectations. I am not living up to my expectations. Okay, we got it. Once was enough.

If it bugs you then get some therapy. I hope it helps. However, it may be a whole lot cheaper to put yourself on permanent holiday. Ask yourself: does this behavior affect anyone but me? If not, you have only yourself to answer for. If it does then decide whether it really matters or not. Is anyone you love or care for truly affected? Will they go sick, hungry or suffer emotional neglect? Or do they simply not care? If unsure, ask them. If they want you to have dinner on the table at six because they are used to it, does that matter? Or is the request simply an expectation? Is it perhaps a not too subtle way of controlling you? Again, if it does not matter then it is not worth all the thought. Go back to doing what you were enjoying.

Shall means there is a legal or ethical commitment. I shall feed and clothe my daughter. If I do not then I am likely to end up in prison. Will means that you honestly and sincerely intend to do something according to some specified conditions. You had given someone (maybe yourself) a commitment. Violating it doesn’t mean that you will be dragged away in chains, only that someone may be upset or think lesser of you.

However, should is simply a word you should not use. So repeat after me: I shall not use should. Instead I will use could. Repeat until the apron strings disappear and you become a liberated human being. Should just puts out a lot of unnecessary bad karma that will make you needlessly and pointlessly upset. You do not need it and no one who associates you needs it either. Pitch the word, pitch the attitude and move on.

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