I cringe when I utter the words, “You/I should.” 

The problem is my frequent spewing the nasty, six letter word, should. Often, in my enthusiasm to share what popped into my head, I’ll spout, “We should plan our trip to Wales.”

Still, the holding forth of the should is a habit I’m working to break. 

After reading Michelle Monet’s hilarious piece, I thought, “I should finish my post about hating should.” Misery loves company and fun writing attracts fun writing, right?

So, sigh, should I…

It doesn’t matter if my, should is  something fun like, “Yes, you should research beachside cottages in Wales in June.” A positive should is still me inflicting a thing—my opinion—on myself and likely someone else, in this case, Older Sister. 

When I tell myself I should, the words are followed by some new responsibility I feel obligated to even though it isn’t in my heart. 

I should accept that networking invitation even though it’s the wrong crowd for my goals. Going would get me out of the house, have me meeting new people. As a writer, I spend a great deal of time in silent solitariness. Being around people is necessary for my well being—and fodder for stories. Still, networking? Yech. Isn’t that much more pleasant done on Medium or Twitter or LinkedIn? Cybernetworking and sharing works for me. You don’t have to shake hands with people while trying to hold a cup of coffee and morning pastry.

I try to heed Ruskin’s words often skip those obligatory should-invitations. “We were not sent into this world to do anything into which we cannot put our hearts.” John Ruskin

I wonder if he endured endless, mindless small talk at networking events or took his own advice to stay home and write.

The Should/Shouldn’t of others

I’m suggestible so when someone says to me, “you should,” I stop to consider their advice. Unless it’s, “You should jump off a bridge,” then I ignore them even if a bungee cord is involved in the plunge. As I have worked to alleviate you should from my coffers of advice, I become more attuned to how often you—arbitrary you—tell me I should do this or that. If you state a casual, “You should join me for a walk on Saturday,” I listen. I love walking, it’s deep autumn and lovely outside. Hmmm, perhaps I will.

However, when you pressure me with a, “You should take that writing class via Yahoo groups,” I cringe in pain. I’ve tried Yahoo groups, as I explain, and hated the experience. But you, in your superiority, pressure me to should, should, should. Most likely, I block you from my beloved Medium-Twitter-LinkedIn. The pressure of these conversations is, alas, too much.

Defining the words

Loving words in their purity, I turn to my 1995 edition of Webster’s II New College Dictionary. Okay, aside here. I am howling. “New College?” I’ve carted this tome around with me since 1996 and graduated college in 1981. New? What was I thinking?

Okay, back on tangent.

This dear book defines should, as used to express:

1. duty or obligation

2. probability or expectation.

3. conditionality or contingency, and

4. Used to moderate the directness or bluntness of a statement.

I dwell in the land of number four.

That was fun—isn’t it always refreshing to read the dictionary? Oh, what? That’s just me. Ahem.  The fun part is realizing the past tense of should is shall. I love the word shall. Want to learn what I learned?

Okay, here it is:


1. Used to indicate simple futurity. (Doesn’t that sound lovely?)

2. Used to express:

a. Determination or promise. (“We shall overcome.” MLK, Jr.)

b. Inevitability. 

c. Command. 

d. A directive or requirement. 

3. Archaic (but I’m loving this) a. To be able to. b. To have to: must.

Ought to, feels like a more demanding version of should. When I utter to myself, I ought to do that, I’m drawing an imperative onto myself. “I ought to make sure I walk five miles today.” Those words are more apt to see me completing that mileage than if I say, “I should walk five miles.” Should is wimpy.

Stating, “I shall travel to Wales,” tells me the trip is in the works, that I’ve begun planning one of my favorite adventures. It’s positive, forward thinking, exposing pending excitement. Saying, “I should travel to Wales next year,” places it in the realm of vague possibility. 

Dealing with me

No matter how I explain it, define it, or or slice and dice it, when I bring should into the equation, I’m imposing my opinion on whatever the it is. 

My advice, should I impose upon you, is to throw the idea back at me, “Really? Should I? Is it in my heart?” Then you should begin laughing really, really loudly.

How about letting me know if how many times you “should” in a day and what happens when you eliminate the word from your speech?


Read: Epithets and Epitaphs