The World of Shoulds


We humans come to almost every encounter or situation with expectations of how it should be.  This “should” runs our lives and is one of the major sources of our suffering.  It is hard for us to be with what is; we want things to be the way we want them to be.

We use “should” most frequently when we interact with people.  One of the most common preconceived expectations exists between lovers.  People meet, fall in love and proceed to want to change their partners.  We may not like the way they eat; their weight; their mood swings; their lack of time management or sex drive, the list goes on.  The idea here is that the people we met and fell in love with are not the way they “should” be.  They “should” conform to the scripts our minds created for them.  We also do this with our children, our friends, our bosses, our colleagues, our finances, our political arenas- we do this in every situation where we are dealing with other human beings and their systems.

Notice though, that we don’t come DSC01825with expectations towards the weather, animals, trees, stars, vegetables, chemistry, viruses, the speed of light – we don’t do this with anything that we perceive as related to nature.  We understand that nature is a byproduct of cause and effect, and we have no expectation that it should be a certain way.  We recognize that things in nature show up the way they show up as a result of certain conditions being present that give rise to the way they show up.  Therefore, we accept when it rains; we understand that if a tree does not bear fruit, there must have been some genetic or environmental conditions that interfered with its ability to produce fruit; we don’t judge viruses, we seek to understand the underlying causes of diseases.  In other words, we approach the world of nature as orderly and rational, and if we don’t like how it shows up, we examine the conditions that give rise to it, and where possible, we change those conditions to achieve the outcome we want.  Where we don’t fully understand or are able to change those conditions, we accept them and accommodate as best as we can.

Yet with each other, we have no such appreciation or understanding.  We walk about in our daily lives with preconceived notions of how others should behave.  Our minds are constantly chattering about who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s good, who’s bad, who’s beautiful, who’s ugly, etc.  Somehow, we have come to separate ourselves from nature, from each other.  Human beings are just as much a byproduct of nature as grass and dogs, and therefore, the same rational laws govern us.  But our minds do not seem to tap into that reality as they go about judging and criticizing.  That too, is part of nature, the nature of the mind.

If we stopped to examine our notions, we would recognize that they come from expectations.  If we looked deeper into the expectations, we would find that there is no basis for those expectations to be there, other than they fulfill our subjective, often unconscious and irrational need to feel safe.  We would discover that we are denying the other person’s, or our own, natural self-expression.  We would realize that we are railing against nature, human nature.  Now, this awareness does not presuppose that accepting something means we condone it.  It means that we need to understand the nature of the person/situation so that, where possible and agreed upon we can work together to change the conditions to promote positive and constructive change.

Next time you find yourself contracted, frustrated, angry or complaining, stop and ask yourself, “What are my expectations?”  and remind yourself that things are unfolding exactly as they are.  If you don’t like it, then choose what you want to or can do about it?

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2 Comments on “The World of Shoulds”

  • 28 November, 2013,

    I read a statement by Louse Hay many, many years ago that still reverberates in me “take should out of your vocabulary” I paraphase, but the jist of it is evident. I catch myself using this negative word every now and again and stop saying it immediately.
    It has become a mantra of sorts for me. 

  • ronit
    9 January, 2014,

    Bravo Sylvia!  I am sure you feel much more free and in charge of your life.

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