Don’t should on me! This clever little saying makes me laugh every time I hear it. We all know the suffocating weight of living under “should”. Whether in eating or exercise, friendship or family, “should” robs us of joy and marches us forward with a dutiful sense of obligation. Lately, I’ve been pondering the difference between “should” and “could”. Both words help us describe the future. But change one little letter and the future shifts. No longer are we squashed under the requirements of “should”. We are considering possibilities of “could”. “Could” opens up our imagination and stirs up excitement about things to come.
Take for example, the daily task of eating. Every day we eat food multiple times. Not only is this activity necessary to sustain life, it is meant to be pleasurable. With “should” in the picture, eating merely gives us physical life without the joy of spirit we are meant to receive. If I think, “I should have carrots for dinner,” I am instantly a rebel, thinking, “Ugh, carrots are lame. But I really should eat them so they don’t go bad and I don’t ruin my diet.”
When I shift to “could” it sounds more like this, “I could have carrots for dinner.”
Now there’s nothing to rebel against. I am just considering the options. “I could put them in a salad or cook them up. I haven’t had cooked carrots for a while, maybe I’ll try sauteing them with the meat and onions.”
“Should” carries with it an undertone of criticism. When we “should” on ourselves we are not handling ourselves with grace. “I really should call her.” Not only does that frame of mind make me not want to call my friend, it implies that something is wrong with me. “If I were really a good friend, I would have already called her by now.”
Whereas, “could” is the language of polite requests. I can wonder, “Hey self, could you call her today?” I think about my busy day and realistically consider if I will have a window of alone time to make the call with focused attention. No one is criticizing me. The answer may be, “No, I will not have time to call her today.”
I also think it’s important not to “should” ourselves into positive thinking. Even reading this, we could conclude, “From now on I will say “could” instead of “should”. That would be nice, but I’m afraid it’s just a set up for another “should”. Instead, we can gain awareness about how our thoughts are coming to us. There are obligations in life. Having a sense of duty is not always bad, but we can still frame it in the excitement of “could” rather than the drudgery of “should”.
“I should go to the family reunion, blah. I guess I have to.”
Versus “I could go to the family reunion. What would that be like? What would it be like if I didn’t go? Ultimately, I really do want to be there.”
Could vs. Should. Separated by one small letter but causing the opposite effect. I don’t want big brown plops landing on my shoulders! I want to be open to a whole world of possibilites. If only there was a clever mneumonic device to help me remember the freedom that is only one word away. Oh yeah, they rhyme!