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The removal of should

February 6, 2013

I have a combo dictionary & thesaurus that I carry (lug) around because I am interested in words – meaning, derivation, subtleties. Recently I removed the word “should” from my dictionary. I took a Sharpie and blacked it out as a ceremonial commitment to removing “should” from my vocabulary.


I am fascinated with human potential, what makes it bloom, what prevents it from blooming. “Should” is a word that bogs me down, it’s heavy and guilt-laden. If I am doing something from a point of “should” I am not acting from my highest potential. I am acting from something lower.

If I say to myself “I should call my brother,” then I have a feeling of burden, that I’m somehow, immediately upon that thought, doing something wrong or am less than some ideal. “Should” implies obligation, duty or so-called propriety. I can’t see much human potential emerging from that.

Instead, if I say to myself “I could call my brother,” it is ripe with possibility and potential.

In different belief systems, this topic comes up. From a Biblical point of view, obedience flows from love, rather than the other way around. In the Buddhist tradition, social duty (which sounds like “should” to me) was one of the three temptations that Buddha had to overcome on his path to enlightenment.

Let me offer practical implications of living from “should.” The first is energy. I have a finite amount of energy each day; it is one of my most precious resources. When I believe and act from a point of “should” it saps my energy, continues to hover over me, luring my thoughts back, continuing to eat away at this precious resource. Sounds awful! Is awful! Click here for more info on energy & happiness.)

The second is the unfolding of human potential. “Should” keeps me from acting from my very best self; decisions made from the point of view of “should” are not aligned with the emergence of my potential.

I get it, there are fears creeping around “should” – a big one being what people think of us – at work, with family, at church. What others think of me changes by the minute and therefore isn’t foundational to my life. I cannot build on it. The reality is they (ah, the mysterious they) aren’t thinking of me at all. Other people’s opinions are their business. Acting from my own character and potential is my business.

So, I am practicing. Replacing “should” with “could” whenever the blasted word shows up in my thoughts. I observe it. Then I choose to go another way, one that is energizing and perhaps leading me in the direction of my fullest potential.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Homer Whisenant permalink
    February 6, 2013 11:37 am

    Wow ! I love it , and you HWW

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