The “Should” Mind

We say things are not as they should be. I say, “things are what they are, so now what?”

Over the past months I have been thinking a lot about how things ‘should’ be. About how things ‘shouldn’t’ be. There is a lot of unhappiness in the world of privilege I occupy and a whole lot of it seems to revolve around ‘should.’ I will engage in long conversations lamenting the state of things in the world and there is plenty to lament!

It’s not that there isn’t a place for the word or concept of ‘should.’  I hope to train myself to change my pattern. When something ‘should’ be different; I’d like the conversation to move on to, “so what shall we do about it?”

This thought began when I noticed in myself that a conversation that involved the use of the word ‘should’ as a primary theme tended to be unproductive and depressing. I was focusing on shallow, thin facts or assumptions rather than moving into solutions, possibilities, alternate interpretations, or even plans for coping with a less than ideal situation. I saw in myself a general tendency to be disgruntled. It seemed to be a way of capitulating and giving up in despair or frustration or anger and hanging onto those feelings, as if they were a security blanket. It also seemed to be a way of hanging onto the righteous anger that seems to accompany the word. There is a hidden, satisfying, vanity, accompanied by a shot of endorphins when thinking, “I am right and they are wrong.”

Should is a kind of delusion. It does not usually bring people into better understanding of one another or help us resolve our differences. Instead of saying, “you should not think like that, or believe that, or it should not be that way,” I might be saying, “why do you think that way,?” Or, “why is it done that way?” or “what if it were done another way?” or “how could we make this better, what would it take?”

Where did the the idea of ‘should’ come from? I’m not looking for a linguistic source. The use of the word “should,” implies that there is a better alternative. A better alternative involves using our imagination. The imagination is a very useful thing and might be one of the things that distinguishes us as human. We humans, in many cultures (not all) like to own our ‘ideas’ though. We have an ego attachment to those ideas/imaginings and assume that we are the only ones to have that idea.  Ahem – I know I have been guilty of this vanity repeatedly. So, I’ve tried to rewire my thinking so that I realize that my ideas are part of a collective consciousness. They are not really mine, they are a synthesis of things I’ve observed/learned and probably millions of other people have had a very similar idea. This is why the computer, as just one example, was invented almost simultaneously, in several parts of the world by a number of different people.

So, we know things could be better; many of us even have the same ideas about how things could be better. But instead of looking at one another and asking, “are you thinking what I’m thinking? Could we make this better?” We shrink into ourselves and get frustrated that things don’t work better.

Human beings are complicated things, driven by primal needs and also by a flawed intellect; we are not wired to naturally work together for the common good, the way the bees do.  No I don’t want us to all be like the Borg but I believe this fundamental flaw may, (or may not,) be our undoing, eventually. We see ourselves as very smart, and we are, but no where near smart enough to handle our biggest problems.  Our collective consciousness is in it’s infancy still, and for most of us, our brains are not connected to that part of us. We also do not have a good understanding of the interplay between our thoughts and our emotions and how to live with and use our emotions. We know how to use our brains, or we are getting good at it anyway. But how do we integrate our emotions into that network of complex problem solving? And it is that lack of effective integration that causes us problems.

We know how to build rockets and submarines and nuclear reactors but utterly ignore the emotional voice within that says, “I fear the potential for harm that these ideas may bring with their implementation.” We certainly have the occasional or even frequent consideration of these fears; but since we do not know how or are too anxious to try out our new ideas, we simply dismiss these fears and feelings and instincts. In some cultures, where considering things and discussing things for a long time is valued, the outcomes are better. But as a whole, humanity doesn’t know how to do this very well and we repeatedly find ourselves at war with one another or causing harm to a whole segment of society.

So my goal, from now on is to minimize the use of the word ‘should,’ and try to redirect my thinking towards, 1. acknowledging facts or apparent realities; 2. trying to accept the realities and find ways of coping with things that are upsetting; 3. thinking in terms of  what, if anything I can do to change things that I think need changing; 4. trying to develop an understanding of the subject; 5. finding new perspectives, looking at things from further away, seeking out good news, and refocusing on what I am up to.

If this all sounds a bit morbid, well, maybe life is just morbid and hard and messy – accentuated with some nice times, plenty of nice times if we are lucky and don’t live in Bangladesh, or Syria, or Palestine, or ….. We are animals, sophisticated animals, but animals just the same. It’s something to think about. I’m not suggesting we stop trying to be civilized; I’m saying we should stop thinking we are more advanced and evolved than we really are. I wonder what human evolution will look like, if we do continue to evolve.

Will we ever tame and harness our animal fear, develop our imperfect intellect, and connect our brains and instincts to work for the common good? Would be amazing if we did!