Quit Shoulding All Over Me

Over time, I’ve gradually nurtured what’s now an extreme aversion to people telling me that I should do things. In the past couple of months, it’s come to a head. Now, whenever I hear or read that word, especially when it’s in the phrase “you should X,” my body tenses up and I am now doubly inclined to do the exact opposite, consequences be damned. (With the one or two obvious exceptions, because everybody has to answer to somebody.) But I’m not sure exactly where this aversion has come from. Granted, I’ve always been a bit anti-authoritarian in a subdued cuss-out-the-teacher-behind-their-back sort of way, but why this relatively recent aversion to the word “should”?

I think it has to do with the phraseology. If someone just asked me to do something, I could say no. Or I could say yes. The ball’s in my court.

When the word “should” is brought into the picture, the implication is that I should have already done this, and that the reasoning why it’s important is so self-evident that the shoulder doesn’t feel the need to even craft an argument defending their assertion.

Finally, the biggest problem is that because of how the shoulding is structured, it’s as if the person has automatically deposited yet another item onto your mile-long to-do list. Since they assume that the conclusion is forgone, it’s common for the shoulder to come up to you later and say, “so, did you do X?”

And when you say “no,” inevitably they’re disappointed in you and let down.

This rule of shoulding applies to menial things that I don’t want to do:
  • You should write an article about X.
  • You should read this book. 
  • You should follow this regimen.
  • You should eat kale.
  • You should lift weights in the winter.

It also applies to important things that honestly, maybe I should in fact be doing. But someone telling me that I should doesn’t help the matter any:
  • You should give to the poor.
  • You should volunteer in your community.
  • You should go to Africa and help dig wells.

So the next time you’re tempted to say “should,” try rephrasing your assertion into a question. “What if you tried…” “Would you be interested in…” “Will you please…”

And then if I want to say “no,” I can let you down immediately.