The Directive of “Should”

Sometimes known as “shoulding all over yourself.”

I say “should” all day long. As in: “I should eat better.” “I should cook more healthy, homemade meals” – or the corollary – “I should get less takeout.” “I should write a book.” “I should be studying Spanish.” “I should be more disciplined (if I were I’d have written the book AND be fluent in Spanish.” “I should get some exercise.” “I should work full-time.” BUT ALSO “I should spend more time with my kids.” “I should be more present.” “I should write a new blog post.” “I should finish the stack of books by my bedside table.” “I should clean out the basement.” “I should be – fill in the blank – better, smarter, faster, more…” Except when “I should be quieter, more thoughtful, slow down.”

In sum, “I should definitely not sit still or pause to take a deep breath. ” Relax? Hahahahaha. PRODUCTIVITY is next to godliness. Or is it?

While none of the above cause obvious harm (except the part where I forget to breath in my pirouetting around) and all are fine aspirations (feeding my family healthy meals, for example, leans more toward the worthy obligation side of adult shoulding), the use of the word “should” results in a sentence that means something very different from the same sentence using the verb “want.” Not to mention that some of my shoulds are downright contradictory.

Look. Being busy and productive isn’t a bad thing. I like to be busy. It’s the tone of the busyness directive, and who is setting the agenda, that can be problematic. 

Should is an incredibly strong little word. Google tells me that it is a modal auxiliary verb, which I don’t remember ever having learned in my 8 years of Catholic school grammar (though, obviously, I SHOULD remember it and probably did learn it, if nothing else through example since Catholic teaching is based on should). Though should can be the past tense of “shall,” it is used primarily “to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.” Trust me, should can be a powerful and judgy dictator. It implies that what you are doing really isn’t sufficient, and that there is more or better or different to be done. Like, get it together, you disappointment. Which is basically the shortest synthesis of Catholic school education there ever was.

When should is in charge, you cannot win.

Should brings even more heat when you move into the past. When you are shoulding yourself at least there is still hope that you could do or be better in one of the many ways you cajole and judge yourself.  The advanced phase of shoulding results in complete admonishment for the lost cause that is you with “I should have done X!” – ahhh, it’s all so obvious now, but it’s in the past and I really should have known better in the present. This tense of the verb is sometimes called the “modal of lost opportunities.” That sounds about right.

Like I said, some shoulds are necessary. And productivity is great. But it’s really important to bring awareness to what you are running around in service to and who is in charge of that action and directive that is key. Be the master of your own destiny! Also, saying no with no regrets is totally a thing. Or so I have heard.

Listening to oneself – really listening – is a rebellious act as well as an act of love. That’s my kind of rebellion (hashtag #shouldrebellion).