Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Post #83: Should "Should" Be Banned from the English Language?

Is it just me, or are people getting more impatient all the time? Lately, whether I'm in line at a store or in traffic with my family, I'm hearing people complain about having to wait (and all sorts of other random things that they feel shouldn't be happening). If possible, I avoid these conversations, but sometimes I can't help but remark, "Well, this is the DMV---what did you expect?," or, "You do realize it's Christmas eve, right?

Sometimes this complaining is just something to do; sometimes it's part of a larger pattern of grumpiness; and sometimes it's based on the fact that we have limited time, and this waiting is going to make us late for something else. The latter may be perfectly valid, but when we're on a tight schedule, we require the world around us to work like a well-oiled machine or else it throws a monkey wrench in our gears and everything comes to a screeching halt. Does that pretty much sum it up? Do we see the problem inherent in needing the world to run smoothly so that we can have a smoothly running life?

The way I see it, the world never promised to be efficient. Maybe Jiffy Lube and Speedy Print are committed to providing a quick turnaround, but life in general is not. Human life is fraught with human cogs in the wheels, and they are prone to all sorts of inconsistencies. As is the weather and anything having to do with nature. And then there are issues of timing, as in people flocking to popular restaurants at mealtimes, and commuters swarming the freeways at rush hour.

There are a million things that can interfere with our best laid plans, but still we expect that things should go smoothly, and are aggravated when they don't. It seems to me that the central problem in our thinking is the "should." In more cases than not, "should" actually means "I wish." Therefore, "This line shouldn't be so long," really means "I wish this line wasn't so long." And "There should be more clerks available," really means "I wish there were more clerks available."

Wishing and reality are two different things, and we cause ourselves and others a lot of stress when we confuse the two. Assuming that you can easily get in and out of the Social Security office over your lunch hour is frustration just waiting to happen. And assuming that your fifteen minute drive should only take you fifteen minutes is a call to action for Caltrans to fix the road today.

I think "should" is an annoying and problematic word that should (oops!) be banned from the English language. It causes nothing but judgments and guilt trips, and it doesn't mean much of anything. This week I invite you to substitute the the phrase "in my dream world" whenever you're tempted to use the word should. So, "Kids should do their homework without being asked," becomes "In my dream world, kids do their homework without being asked," and "I shouldn't eat junk food," becomes "In my dream world, I wouldn't eat junk food." Please forgive my sarcastic tone, but this really does works! Have a great week.