“You should be…” “I should be…” “You should have…” “I should have…” ‘Should’ and its little friend ‘shouldn’t’ – may be the most invidious words in the English language. They take you down dark paths, whether you are saying them to others or to yourself. And who hasn’t said them to someone, either as an imperative or an accident?
This blog could be the sequel to ‘The arrogance of certainty’ – ‘Should’ is such a certain word, isn’t it? It implies that the speaker knows the secrets of the universe; that whatever they say is sure to be acted on. It can be as simple as me being told (this is true): “You shouldn’t use a white cup if you don’t clean it properly.” Why shouldn’t I? I like white cups and I know how to clean them, but sometimes I choose not to scrub them back white again as soon as I’ve finished with them. I choose. In my own time, and in my own way. Yay me.
This is also true – said to me, by me. “You should have written another blog by now.” and “You should have submitted to the next literary agent.” and “You should do more/be more all the time.” and “You should be happy. You have a house, work that you love (most of the time), a family, friends, you aren’t living in Syria, you didn’t get flooded, you should be happy.” And if I’m not happy all the time because I should be – if I don’t do everything my perfectionist, slightly obsessive head-mind tells me to because I should, I am not happy. I am anxious, exhausted, striving for more and more, not really stopping because there’s always something else I should be doing.
I’m telling myself a story. We all do that, we tell ourselves – and others – stories. All the time. We change them to suit whoever we’re telling. We love embellishing, to make ourselves look good or bad or funny or tragic. We want people to listen to our stories and feel sorry for us, or understand us, or we just need to tell them in order to have some kind of validation.
A man named Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a book called The Four Agreements. I’ve bought this book for quite a few people now – one of them happily says to me, when I do the ‘Should’ shit – “Time for the Four Agreements,” and she’s right. He says this: “At a certain point, all the opinions of our parents and teachers, religion and society, make us believe that we need to be a certain way in order to be accepted. They tell us the way we should be, the way we should look, the way we should behave. We need to be this way; we shouldn’t be that way – and because it’s not okay for us to be what we are, we start pretending to be what we are not. The fear of being rejected becomes the fear of not being good enough, and we start searching for something that we call perfection. In our search, we form an image of perfection, the way we wish to be, but we know that we are not, and we begin to judge ourselves for that.”
The first Agreement is this: “Be impeccable with your word.” And on first glance you might think, oh that’s OK, just don’t be nasty to people. But it isn’t only that. It’s about the word you use to others and the word you use on yourself. It’s bloody hard and when I’m anxious/angry/frustrated/unhappy/depressed, it becomes even harder. You want so badly to pull yourself out of this state – you know that you can, you have the tools to do it, you’ve spent years getting to this point of being able to do it – and your head goes: “You should.” And there you are again.
February is a ‘should’ month for me – I find it difficult, not necessarily because the weather’s shit. It’s got a couple of things going for it – short, and no council tax. But there’s that Imbolc time of new beginnings, spring appearing, crocuses, snowdrops – and the feeling that I should – there I go again – be more galvanised and spring-like. So why aren’t I? I just. Am. Not. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I can be. Yesterday I was – I had a brilliant evening with writers and readers, and it’s given me the kick up the arse I needed to rediscover the joy of possibility. I think that’s the worst thing about ‘should’. You lose the joy; there’s only other people’s ‘should’s’ and your own beating a path through your head to the heart.
March is looking good though.