The problem with should


We had just arrived in San Francisco and were driving toward the Golden Gate Bridge, heading along the coast and then to the beach for a stroll on that gorgeous, warm January day. It came up that I had never seen the city of San Francisco.

One of my friends said, “Oh! We have to detour and take you in to see the city!”

It was a lovely gesture, to detour on my behalf. “That’s ok,” I replied, “I’m happy to skip the city and go on to Stinson Beach for a walk.”

My other friend said, “You can’t be this close to the city and not see it. It’s such a beautiful city.”

I said, “That’s really nice of you, but I’m more drawn to things outside of cities. I’m fine seeing San Francisco some other time.”

There was a third attempt to help me see the light. I was quiet in the back seat, mulling.

My two dear friends are fellow mediators and the realization was upon them immediately – both loving and smart, those two. There was a chuckle from the front seat. J turned and grinned at me. “We really want for you to want to see San Francisco, don’t we? We want it for you more than you want it, don’t we?”

We all laughed and drove on to Stinson Beach, where we took off our shoes and spent two hours strolling the nearly empty beach in the warm afternoon sun (so different from the frigid New England we’d just left), sharing stories, picking up and examining interesting beach stones, greeting dogs that trotted by, relaxing and enjoying the ocean sounds and surf.

There’s a difference between what we want for someone and what they should want, yet we so frequently translate the former into the latter as though they are the same. When we want something for them, something from them, we would do better to acknowledge it as a statement of our own desires. Let’s use should a great deal less than we do, for who are we to know what they should want or should do? Only they can truly know.

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  1. says

    Tammy – I was right there in Muir Woods last weekend, which I think is not far from Stinson Beach? And I am right there with you in your story. We as often invent “shoulds” for ourselves. I’m glad you did not. Much ki! -Judy

    • says

      Judy, there we were, both away from NH and right next door to one another in CA! I had hoped to see Muir Woods but alas, schedule didn’t permit. I imagine it was wonderful.

  2. says

    Tammy, I believe that you should not SHOULD on yourself. When you do I find that you’re typically reacting to what you think others / society / etc. expect you to do. What an opportunity to think and stand up for yourself! Thanks for this. Jean

  3. Pam says

    My mother was the queen of “shoulds”.I try to never use that word. It may have 6 letters but it’s a four-letter word to me.

  4. iangrodman says

    Great piece, Tammi, thanks. (BUT, can we make allowances for what our children should want? :))

  5. says

    Pam, your comment about the six-letter word made me smile…good one!

    Ian, yours made me smile too…juxtaposed with Pam’s comment it was perfection!

  6. Janet Huyser says

    When a mentor many years ago suggested that I stop “shoulding” on myself, it was a freeing moment. Now I get to add, the idea that we should not “should” on others or allow them to do the same to us! Thanks for the suggestion and the vivid story to help us identify with the joy and freedom this can bring!

    • says

      Janet, I recall the first time I heard someone using the phrase, “stop shoulding on people” — it was a teacher talking to a grad class and I knew I’d never forget what she’d said!

  7. says

    As someone who has been to both SF and Stinson beach (I used to live in the Bay area), I’d say given limited time, you made a great choice. I love that city too, but my heart is drawn to nature, as is apparently, yours. “Thou shouldst not should on others” is a lesson I heard long ago (probably college), but I confess it took some time for it to take.

  8. Uma Ramanathan says

    Preconditioning more often makes us think only of “SHOULD”. More often we are afraid to cross the self-imposed borders that we think are our limits and this then translates to what the others “SHOULD” want or be comfortable with. In mediation it is very necessary to follow”thou shouldt not should on others” as the line between persuation and deciding is so blurred that one can easy overlook the borders. thanks a ton for sharing this