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The Irrational Use of SHOULD

It seems so harmless, doesn’t it?

It's just an innocent, six-letter word.


And yet many of us are using it to express handed down beliefs we haven’t fully examined.

  • A good wife should keep the house clean.

  • Married couples should vacation together.

  • Men should take off their hats at the table.

We say, “should” to verbalize a rule, a demand, or a command.

But many times, our rules aren't reasonable or sound. Some are based on something silly or senseless. Others are terribly unjust.

People with brown skin should sit at the back of the bus.


The truth is, we're often using SHOULD in an irrational way.

Let me show you what I mean by putting an old favourite under the microscope.

Men should take off their hats at the table.

Really? Okay . . . WHY?

Because it’s disrespectful to the others at the table. Especially to women.

But Why? Why would it be disrespectful? Why would it be more disrespectful than, lets say . . . wearing flip-flops or a short-sleeved shirt? What’s disrespectful about showing your head or (gasp) your hair?

Well, uh . . . um . . . it’s a sign of respect to take off your hat in the presence of others . . . especially a lady. It's been that way since the old days.

Ah. The OLD days. Is that really a good enough argument for any of us now?

Because if you dig a bit further into the hat-removal custom, you'll discover something unsettling.

Back in the "old days" there was pressure to acknowledge SOCIAL STATUS when greeting an acquaintance—which meant a man of lower rank was obliged to remove his hat fully while a man of higher status (who considered himself to be superior to others) merely touched his.


And there's more.

Head-covering and uncovering etiquette has its roots in religion.

Here's what the apostle Paul has to say about it in 1 Corinthians 11, (New American Standard Bible):

Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head.

For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

Paul also says that women should be silent in church and that they should not speak but be submissive as the law says.

Do you see problem here, dear one?

SHOULDS usually represent an old societal or moralistic rule that's been handed down to us by previous generations who were often prejudiced or bound by the limitations of their time.

It's important not to just follow them blindly. But please don't think I'm saying we need to throw out rules, or even traditional customs.

We need guidelines and structure in society or there would be chaos (green is for go, people! Red means we stop!)

We also need ways of showing love and respect to the people who have honestly earned it.

But when we use the word SHOULD without questioning it, it can cause a lot of misunderstanding and pain—especially in our relationships.

  • They should have sent me a thank you card.

  • They should call me more often.

  • They should reply to my texts within the hour.

  • They should answer their phone when I call.

Except . . . they don’t. And they’ve got their reasons.

So if you’re in the corner stewing about it, you’re actually fighting with reality.

And wearing yourself down in the process.

Are you nodding your head in recognition?

Then here's the solution, my lovely . . .

Replace the phrase THEY SHOULD with I WISH THEY WOULD.

  • I wish they would sent me a thank you card.

  • I wish they would call me more often

  • I wish they would reply to my texts within the hour.

  • I wish men would take off their hats at the table (because it makes me feel better for some unknown reason.)

You’ll feel the difference immediately, I promise.

Because when we're imposing rules, or casting moral judgment onto others, WE DON'T FEEL GOOD.

We feel pinched up, twisted up, and painfully self-righteous.

Use the phrase, "I wish" and you'll notice a subtle release of control.

It doesn't matter if your SHOULD originated from your mother, your great-grandmother, or the apostle Paul. If it causes you (and the people around you) unhappiness, it's time to take a closer look.

I’m not saying you should.

I'm just really (really) wishing you would.

Sending you so much love,

PS. I'm passionate about bringing awareness to our mind-mistakes because for so much of my life, I was completely tripped up by them. (Hurray for Behaviour Cognitive Therapy!)

I used the example of "men should remove their hats at the table" because it's from my own collection of SHOULDS that I occasionally still stumble over.

My religious upbringing trained me to expect men to be a certain way and I used to have a lot of rules around what love and respect looked like.

In the past, when a man removed his hat for me, I felt acknowledged and special—not realizing that I was relying on a ritual to gain a false sense of self-worth and security. Which meant I was completely giving my power away to a hat.

I still appreciate gestures of acknowledgement, but I'm not bound to them in the way that I used to be, and I try not to SHOULD others into adhering to them.

I use "I wish" frequently and it really does help.

Let me know if you have any SHOULDS creating havoc in your life.

I'd love to help you with that.


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