The Burden of “Should”

I’m trying to remove the word “should” from my vocabulary. Or at least, to drastically reduce its usage. Should is a shaming word. It says, “You don’t have to, and you don’t want to (because if you did you would have done it already), but somebody else (to or for whom you are not responsible) thinks you ought to.”

I’m not talking about things like “You should obey the law” or “You should take care of your children.” Those are responsibilities, and if you don’t want to do them there can be dire consequences for yourself or others*. No, I’m talking about things like “You should wash the dishes or do the laundry” and “You should read this book or participate in this event or activity.”

When I use the word should against myself (or when others use it against me), it makes me feel inadequate just as I am because I am being held to somebody else’s standards. When I use it against others, it makes them feel so. No wonder we’re all in a frenzy trying to be and do everything for everyone that we forget our limitations and end up overly-extended and exhausted.

Instead, I’m getting in the habit of saying “I want to get the laundry done because I need clean clothes.” Or “This was a really great book because of such-and-such reason. Let me know if you want to borrow it from me.”

Let’s have grace for ourselves and do more of the things we need and want to do, and maybe a little less of the should’s. Or at least alter our language in a way that brings more freedom rather than an unfounded sense of obligation to ourselves and to others. Words matter.

And when others offer us lots of “shoulds”—no need to bite anyone’s head off for offering what they think is good advice. “Maybe” or “I’ll think about it” is a good enough response to something they think you should do but you don’t want to do (or at least, don’t want to do right now). And maybe, even if they worded it as a should, just maybe it will turn out to be a suggestion you’ll find helpful to incorporate into your life.

Hopefully these few paragraphs help you become more free, rather than put another burden of “should” on your shoulders.


*There are times and places where civil disobedience is both appropriate and well-called for, particularly in cases of injustice.