Should We Think “Should”?

[reprinted of the writer’s blog post of August 18, 2015]

Most adults take pride in being rational, informed, strong-minded people who accept the world as it is and cope with it accordingly.


We are wrong.


Our inner dialogue betrays us with a single word: “should.” It expresses indignance and proves that we expect the world to be other than it actually is. Just listen to yourself.


A child throws a tantrum in a restaurant. We think the parents should handle it quickly, wisely and quietly; the child should obey his elders; the manager should ask the annoying family to leave. None of those things will happen.


–We think our soldiers should come home, undamaged, and receive the thanks of a grateful nation.

–We think politicians (or news anchors, or clergymen, or salesmen) should speak the truth and stand behind it.

–Policemen should always be calm, controlled, kind, helpful, honest, brave, and universally respected.

–Grandparents should always die before parents and parents before children.

–People who sing in public should be able to carry a tune.

–People who sing the national anthem in public should know the words.

None of these is reality. This is not how the world really works.


Why does the voice in our mind respond automatically with such assertions, then? Some say it’s because we internalized the Ten Commandments in our youth [another unrealistic assumption]. Some say it’s because homo sapiens has evolved some innate sense of fairness. Some philosophers even insist that this phenomenon of the human psyche is proof of the existence of God.


However we came by this instinct, it is ubiquitous. Perhaps we could train ourselves to eliminate the expectation of rightness, fairness, goodness, or shouldness in the real world. Without those expectations, though, would we still have the optimism and hope we need to cope with reality?


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