Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Stop Shoulding on Me!

There's a word that people use all the time that makes me cringe when I hear it. It starts with "S-h." No, it's not what you think...it's not the four-letter word that rhymes with spit.

It's the word, "Should."

I hate that word.

You should go to this restaurant.
You should read this book.
You should try Spin/Yoga/Pilates.

I understand that a person might be excited about that restaurant, book, or exercise class and wants others to experience them as well. But to me, should expresses more than a suggestion--it implies an obligation. 

The word should is an auxilliary verb. That means that it is used to form the tense, mood, or voice of another verb. Should eat, should go, should do. The real action is in the eating, going, or doing. But that little auxilliary word often packs a lot more power than the verb it's forming. Sometimes, it's all we hear.

Should, in this form, is used to express obligation, propriety, or expediency. Used correctly, it might imply what is probable or expected...I should be there by noon. But too often, we should on ourselves and should on others. You should do this, I should do that. The obligation part of should.

I should implies guilt at having failed to live up to a certain standard (often self-imposed or unrealistic). 
I shouldn't offers a false sense of guilt.
I should have instills guilt through regret and remorse.

In my opinion, the word should has the implication of guilt hanging on to it.

It's a word that shouldn't be used.

When we understand our words and the impact those words have, we learn to use them differently.

We can remove the guilt that we place on others and on ourselves by simply choosing other words.

Instead of saying, "You should read this book," try saying this (notice I did not say that you should instead say this):

"Have you read this book? No? I did, and I really liked it. Do you like books about____? Yes? I'd be happy to lend it to you if you'd like."

Telling someone that they should try an exercise program simply because you love it might turn someone off to exercise altogether. How about this?

"If you like to cycle, you might like Spin (briefly explain the benefits--key word: briefly). If it's not for you, there are so many other ways to get fit. You could try different classes to see if you prefer one method over another."

Could is a less offensive word than should

Have you been shoulding on people? 
Are you shoulding on yourself?

You should stop.

Choose words that won't foster guilt in yourself or in others. Changing the way you say things causes you to think about the words you choose, and choosing your words before you speak causes you to change your thinking. 

I've eliminated the word should from my vocabulary. Are you with me?

Blessings Along the Path,

The topic of this post is so dear to my heart that I wrote a book about it. Ralph Gouda and the Brothers Oulda (very loosely titled) is about a man (Ralph) who has a set of triplets living in his head. Shoulda, Woulda, and Coulda create havoc with Ralph's thoughts until one day Ralph declares that he's had enough. When he takes action, his whole life changes.

This short book (about 85 pages) is allegorical in nature, with a discussion guide at the end. Perfect for small groups, bible studies, or book clubs. I will be self-publishing sometime in the fall, so if you're not following my blog, sign up now to be sure not to miss the updates!

References: Merriam Webster Dictionary


  1. I'm with you - "should" and its close cousin "ought to" are not friends of mine! You're right, they are guilt-producing. I've even heard it said that it's more effective when asking someone to do something to start the sentence with "would" instead of "could" - as could makes it sound like they're incapable, whereas would puts the decision in their court, and they can choose to do you a favor. Words!!

    I run around feeling guilty all the time anyway, even for stuff that's not my fault. I really SHOULD stop doing that!!


    1. Yes, would and could are better choices. Oh, that darned guilt! Stop that! Always a pleasure to read your responses Sharon. I've been off the grid on vacation (it's been wonderful being unplugged). Slowly getting back on.

  2. You've given me something to think about!