I have had it up to here lately with "shoulds." And not even my own! It's a word that I've been hearing frequently, and I don't think that the people who say it are even thinking about its meaning when they throw it out there. In seemingly well-meaning phrases like,
"You should call me!"
"You should totally watch [TV-show-of-the-moment]. You'd love it!"
"You should eat more green smoothies: they are so good for you."
"You should come to yoga class. It's really good right now."
All heard in the past week.
And all without any lead-up questions like, "What are you watching these days: are you looking for a new series?" Or, "You're looking for a new yoga class? Maybe I can suggest one."
But when people butt into my life, pushing (I can't even say "offering") solutions to things that I haven't identified as problems, I get edgy. What is it that you are thinking that I need to do in my life that you are convinced that I am not taking care of?
Oh. Is that me being touchy? Yes. I don't like being told what to do. Especially, completely out of context. If I need advice on my diet, I'll ask. I don't need to feel guilted into calling people: I already have a family of origin. Your shouldding me takes the energy between us to a new low. Actually, it's an energy dead-end. Like you know better than me about my life, you with your "shoulds."
Meanwhile, I understand that it's a figure of speech. It's a control-gathering way of trying to be helpful, or offering up friendship. I have compassion for the breakdown of language, and the time it takes to explore a topic before prescribing a "solution" that's on your mind. Our media culture is filled with solutions: how to "get rid of that belly" (really? I'm kind of okay with mine), "reduce your wrinkles" (ditto) and "downplay figure flaws" (seriously. I'm flawed?!) Isn't that we have a body completely human and completely ridiculous?
I am so done with "should."
And here's where I politely ask that when you're thinking of giving me advice that I didn't ask for, could you please reconsider what it is that you're really after. Is it that you think I might like something that you like? How about asking, "Hey Lor, have you heard of XX? I think you might like it." Or, "Remember when you used to come to our yoga class? What's happening for you that you can't make it? We miss you there." And then I have a chance to respond. Having a chance to respond is critical to kind communication. It deepens connection. It keeps energy flowing. And it reminds me that we are, both, completely compassion-filled: for ourselves and for each other. We don't play with the sharp edges that stick out of "shoulds." We're simply friends sharing our care for one another, on whatever topic comes up.
May I suggest that we curb our shoulds, and move forward with friendship: the compassionate kind that I know you live.
(originally published on January 14, 2014, at my now defunct former space borealtrim.com)