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Should-ing All Over the Place

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

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By Andrea Lynn Cianflone


Being greeted by the daily swarm of New Yorkers on a Monday morning subway commute has offered more than enough stories to last a lifetime. How many times I have stepped foot inside those doors with three or four bags in my hands or on my shoulders and hoped that maybe, just maybe, someone would take notice, and I’d be given a seat on the crowded train. Aside from me, I often wished more people would offer a seat to the person with a cane, the pregnant woman, or the senior citizen. The music in my mind begins, “Those people should be giving up their seats.” Almost instinctively, the blood boils through my veins like an orchestral overture with a heavily bowed string section. Every negative thought is now pounding like the mallet on the timpani as I take a head count of the many people unaware to the needs of their fellow human beings. I’m should-ing all over the place and the symphony’s finale is spiraling downwards to disappointment, falling onto resentment, and flushing to unforgiveness.


Have you ever found the following statements of should-ism swirling in your mind?


“My friend should have called me.”

“My family should have visited.”

“My boss should have given me a raise.”

“My boyfriend should have remembered our anniversary.”


These statements may be true! The reality is that an expectation was not met by the other party. I find more peace in this mantra: “I’m not going to place an expectation on this person to do XYZ even though I believe it to be the right thing to do.” Should-ing seems to imply a certain absolute about the way to live life. I think there are honest challenges with should-ing, however, because nature does offer certain absolutes: the fact that humans cannot live without water, food, or that certain tones resonate at a given frequency (think of absolute pitch). When the absolutes are met, it seems there is a level of joy that is obtained. I would presume that most people probably feel great after having a glass of water, a nice meal, and hearing in-tune music! Because of these natural absolutes, how far-fetched is it to opine that the laws of nature could apply to the arena of interpersonal relationships?


Yet I’m met with another challenge to ponder! Should-ism could imply exercising unreasonable authority, dominance, entitlement, a superiority complex, and even control over another person. One of the greatest abilities is to think, reason, and make decisions with our own conscience and will. Does should-ing then respect the autonomy of a person? Is should-ing an act of practicing authentic love? Arguably, should-ing could imply a level of security, safety, or concern, like my doctor who says I should get more rest or should eat certain foods in my diet. Should-ing could be an act of motivation or encouragement, like the inspiring words from my voice coaches: “You should really be doing XYZ repertoire. It would be great in your voice.” Who would argue the intent behind should-ing that comes from a positive, affirming place?


Should-ing is a tricky business as it could also mean that unacceptable behaviors are ignored. Even by using such words as “unacceptable” precludes an absoluteness or healthy way of living. In another words, there exists a right and wrong. Say for instance, an elderly woman is strolling across the street in a wheelchair and drops all her groceries. Alongside of her is a stranger who witnesses this unfortunate event. Any courteous human being, noticing the inability for the woman to get out of her wheelchair, would gladly help pick up her groceries. I instantly hear the script, “that person should help the elderly woman.” Say the person continued to walk by, however, dismissing the elderly woman and all her groceries on the ground. I might exert a different sort of script decorated with expletives: “that person is !&*(^%$, ignorant, insensitive, and even selfish for not helping the woman.”


When should is attached to any given statement, it may imply, “I know the best in this situation...or I know better than you…or I expect XYZ of you.” Aside from abiding by rules and laws, who gave authority to me to decide what another should and should not do? Should-ing can exercise a need for reciprocation, affirmation, or a call to action of sorts, maybe even a method to obtain justice from a situation. An unjust law is not a law and so should-ing could be appropriate to rebalance a sense of justice, and in the wise words of Mother Teresa: “justice without love is not justice. Love without justice is not love.” Abstaining from should-ing in situations that may not warrant it could be looked upon as a gift of love, as the freedom of will in that person is recognized.


How do I strike a balance between should-ing or not should-ing? I have found that unmet expectations give an opportunity for a dialogue between the two parties. People are often unaware of their missteps and looking to positive energy is a helpful way to encourage ‘awareness.’ Singing is a great way to build awareness because it engages the senses to surrounding stimuli…to be fully alive, to be present, to listen, to engage, and to be authentic. “You should have called me,” phrases might just find more tranquility in this space: “I love when I hear from you because I miss you.” Isn’t that what we want in the world, a little more love? What better place to find that loving balance and relationship than say the jazz singer who improvises the notes to be sung in whatever succession but still stays true to the harmonic structure that nature provides. To should or not to should, that is the question! You should (wink) try asking this question too!

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