‘Should’ is a very violent word. So are its relatives, ‘ought to’ and ‘have to’ [Its neighbors ‘need to’ and ‘must’ are a bit different, but can also be destructive depending on their usage (a topic for another day.)] These ways of speaking and thinking are extremely embedded in our psychosocial programming. However, our choice to use them has the potential to create a massive amount of suffering, so let us examine simply the reason why. The phrases ‘should’, ‘ought to’, and ‘have to’ are violent because, in truth, there is nothing that one ever ‘has to’ do! Total freedom is an attribute of an human being.
Hmm…. I’m sensing some resistance to this idea! Perhaps you have heard this before, think it is idealistic, and feel annoyed. Or, you want me to know, “There are just some things you HAVE to do! For instance, I have to feed myself and my family. Also, I HAVE to work. I HAVE to go to school. So many things I have to do!!”
Well, I empathize with your frustration. However, there is another way we can approach things which we value very much, or wish others to value, that does not necessitate victim thinking. We can express it much differently. For instance, we can say ‘want’, ‘like’, or ‘choose’. This is very, very important, because everything is a choice in this reality. For instance, “I choose to feed myself and my family because I love them very much and want them to be well-nourished.” Or, “I choose to work because I’d like to be useful to myself and others and I enjoy serving the world in this way.”
We can end this way of teaching our children that they are powerless. We can explain that although we would like them very much to do something, they ultimately must make the decision and take responsibility. For instance, instead of telling a child they must clean their room, or they must not steal, we can explain the consequences of such actions, or admit why we don’t wish them to do such things. For example, “I’d like you to consider keeping your room clean because cleanliness is a wonderful thing, and I care about the health and hygiene of our whole family.”
Instead of saying “We shouldn’t kill,” how can we be more honest about what we mean? “Destroying life has very serious consequences, and if we refrain from this action and instead choose nonviolence, our lives will become enriched by the harmony of mutual understanding.”
Instead of saying “You shouldn’t steal”, we can say “I hope you will consider not taking anything that isn’t yours without having permission, because otherwise I’m concerned that you and others will feel sad about mutual trust being violated.”
Instead of saying “You shouldn’t be racist,” we can say “If we treat everyone with mutual love and respect, we can enjoy a wonderful relationship with our fellow humans, regardless of their appearance.”
Underlying this manner of expression is a strong respect for life and its innate freedom of choice. We know that people are free to do any action that they wish, though to admit this is scary. It creates violence to imply that anyone ‘has to’ do anything. It is also ultimately a rather inefficient way of educating ourselves and others, because telling someone they shouldn’t do something does not explain why we think it shouldn’t be done. Perhaps because we don’t know why; someone else has simply told us we mustn’t do it, and we don’t want to take the time required to be clear with ourselves about it.
Whatever the myriad of reasons; we can choose not to use terms which tend to espouse subtle psychic violence. We can undo the neurolinguistic programming of countless generations and foster a more honest and harmonious way of being with ourselves and others. We are free to reprogram consciousness in each and every moment in order to serve Life.