What the word “should” really means


When my children were young, I took a parenting class that proved to be invaluable to me (and to my kids I’m sure).

I learned strategies and concepts that influenced not only the way that I parent but the way that I move through life.

One of the concepts that really stuck with me is something I remember the instructor saying often. She said, “When you should on somebody, you shit on somebody.”

Please excuse the language, but truly nothing else sums it up in quite that way.

“Should” often contains judgment. If we suggest that someone should do something, then we are implying that something’s not quite right with what they’re doing now. Whether we intend to or not, our words may be implying that THEY are not quite right. (Translation: not good enough the way they are.)

Even if we think that we have their best interest at heart, how can WE possibly know what is in THEIR best interest? Doesn’t our personal filter cause interference? Isn’t our “should” robbing them of their own process of exploration and discovery?

By the same token, isn’t our own path distorted if we allow ourselves to be heavily swayed by other people’s attempts to “should” on us (no matter how well meaning)?

Even without other people’s help, the majority of us are doing quite a job of muddying our path all on our own.  Have you ever noticed how relentlessly most of us “should” on ourselves?

I should eat better. I should exercise more often. I should lose weight.  I should be more outgoing. I should be more organized.  I should be further along.  I should have a better handle on things.  (Same translation applies:  I should be better, therefore, I’m not good enough the way that I am.)




Sure maybe there are some things that we would like to improve upon, but “should-ing” on ourselves isn’t going to help us get there.

How about substituting the word should with intend? I intend to eat better. I intend to exercise more often. I intend to let go of some of my clutter.

And if intend feels a little too strong and scary for you, then why not try the word “like”?   Even that feels a lot better than should.

I’d like to eat better. I’d like to exercise more often, etc.   This is inviting instead of off putting; nurturing instead of admonishing.

Isn’t it time to stop all of this should-ing? Isn’t it time to remember that when we “should on somebody, we shit on somebody? Isn’t it time to remember that when we “should” on ourselves, we shit on ourselves?

Again I apologize for the language, but I hope that it makes the impression on you that it did on me. When we consider those words to be inter-changeable, it certainly illuminates the true destruction caused by “should”.

And just to give you an idea of how truly interchangeable these words are, I need to tell you that I wrote this post by speaking into the microphone on my iPhone. I can’t stop chuckling because every time I say “should-ing”, the microphone interprets it as “shitting.”


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