The most offensive word in the English language starts with an S.
But it’s not a four letter word. In fact, it’s quite unassuming at first.
It’s the word “should”.
Should implies expectation, from either yourself or other people. And expectations are always caustic, always hurtful.
This may seem surprising at first. After all, aren’t there things that we are supposed to do, that we need to do?
Supposed and need are still part of the family of words that imply a lack of choice. And as human beings choice is our most defining and most precious asset.
When I say that I expect you to do something, that means that my projection of your future does not allow for the possibility of you not doing that thing. And that diminishes from your ability to choose.
But aren’t there some things that we really have to do?
What about paying the bills, watching the kids, not running over people over in the street. Are these also choices?
They may seem so obvious to you that you have not even considered the alternative. But the reality is that you always have another option. And, if you haven’t chosen that option, it means you have chosen the current one.
Yes, in fact, you can choose to let your kids starve as your party in the Bahamas. But that thought is so horrific to you that you choose to stay at home and be the best parent you can be to them.
It helps to remember that there are actually people who have done that, and you are choosing to do the opposite. Even if it’s illegal, well, there are plenty of people who choose to do illegal things, while you have chosen to obey the law.
You see what happened there?
As soon as you acknowledge the alternative to your current actions, you immediately repossess your inner ability to choose. You consider all the options, and you re-embrace your current decision.
And suddenly, the act that you were doing by rote, because you felt compelled to, becomes a facet of your free will.
It may not be pleasant.
It may be really difficult.
But it is a choice you have made, and now, instead of getting more and more resentful about being in a situation you don’t want to be in, you become more empowered as you continuously, consciously, implement difficult choices.
Screw this, I’m outtta here
The flip side of course, is that you may decide to drop some of the things you feel like you “should” be doing, and simply stop doing them. I believe this is always a positive thing, even if it is objectively “wrong” or frowned upon by society.
Because it is better to consciously make wrong decisions than unconsciously follow the herd mentality and do what society expects from you.
If you actively choose the life you live and the path you take, you will be happier and more fulfilled and will be exercising your unique human capacity on a regular basis.
Exercising our free will always comes with the risk of us making wrong choices, and that is a reality that it would behoove us to embrace.
A form of abuse
Do you see how expectations always negate this inborn trait of ours?
They imply that there is only one way we can act at any given time. And the result is that we force people into actions they don’t want to take, and we take for granted the choices they make.
An expectation implies that someone owes us something, when the truth is that nobody owes us anything.
Even an agreed-upon social interaction like that of an employee and boss is merely a series of choices – I choose to give you money, and you choose to give me services.
At any point either of us can negate our agreement and walk away.
Say for example, you pay me to build you a website.
I don’t need to build one for you, and it is offensive to imply that I do. I always have the choice to not build you that website – I can return your money and walk away.
And as long as you keep that in mind, you will be a lot more grateful for the work I put in – because it wasn’t your money that “got” me to do it. It was me, choosing, to build you, a website.
Are you beginning to see how this type of language and mindset, so ingrained into our daily life, is actually very disempowering and offensive to ourselves and others?
Spiritual side note: this same mindset, of taking nothing for granted, also applies to our attitude towards God. He does not owe us anything, and when we realize this, it sets the stage for tremendous gratitude.
Turn it inwards
Even when we use words like need and should in our own inner dialogues, the same principle of abuse applies.
After all, I don’t actually have to do anything. If I choose to do something, that should not be take for granted, no matter how often I have done that in my past.
And if I didn’t do what I was supposed to, or chose to do something objectively wrong, I still don’t deserve to speak to myself that way.In effect what I would be doing is beating myself up, defining myself as “below expectations”.
A far more beneficial approach would be to acknowledge my own inner emotional complexity.
Yes, maybe I was supposed to hand in that assignment yesterday and I didn’t.
But maybe I have a deeply ingrained fear of failure that I was taught as a child which causes me to literally freeze up whenever the possibility for failure presents itself?
Maybe, considering my personal challenge, it is beyond my capabilities to hand in that assignment?
Maybe I have the right to flunk out of school instead of enduring that fear that haunts me?
Of course, getting therapy may be a far better option, but considering my situation here and now, I am trying to choose what is best for me.
And with that in mind, do you see how any expectation of ourselves to act a certain way in the future is very unproductive?
We can plan and hope, but we don’t know what we will be feeling until that moment arrives, and it is at that moment that we can exercise our ability to choose.
Any expectation defined in advance negates that choice, and often backfired negatively to boot.
Instead of beating ourselves up over our failures and “bad” choices, a more productive approach would first have feel compassion towards ourselves.
Accepting your choices, even your negative ones, places you in a far more empowered and balanced place to make better choices in the future.
Does this idea make sense?
If so, I suggest taking note of your speech patterns, paying attention to the times that you or other people use words like “should” and “need to”. These are instant cues that someone in the situation is not acknowledging the free-will capabilities of themselves or those around them.
At those moments, the best thing to do is to pause briefly, and examine whether you would like to choose to do said action. And if and when you do, remember to have gratitude towards yourself and others for this choice – and from this place of choice there is nothing about your life that you should simply take for granted.