Putting “I should” back under the spotlight

For many years now I have been sending a strong message about my belief that the word “should” is language that has no real use in the English language. My reasoning being that it could easily be substituted with “I could”, “I want to” or “I choose to” which is much more empowering and suggests that the value behind the action belongs to the individual rather than from outside (mother, father, peers, media etc.). Today I have to admit to realising that another interpretation is possible when someone is stating, “I should… tell her, visit him, do that etc.”  And again, it is to do with the issue of values. 

Which brings me to the interesting area of what is right and what is wrong and how do we make that decision. Once again, I am influenced by my good friend Hugh McKay (one day I’ll meet the guy), and on re-reading his book “Right or Wrong”, I came across a statement that made me change my view and allow “should” some small place in our vocabulary. The reason I have been re-reading this particular book is that I seem to have come across many situations recently that involve moral dilemmas. I have been on the outside of these and drawn into thinking about how both sides of the situation have a strong argument for being morally right, depending on whose eyes you are looking.  

We know that under very different circumstances, lying, stealing or even killing have a justifiable reason. Take the war in Israel. People involved would say they are justified for killing. (I find it ironic that a cease fire to allow people to buy groceries is considered necessary). Let’s make sure we have breakfast before we die. But I am not writing this to comment on anyone’s choices. Simply to acknowledge that when people say “I should” it may well be indicating that they are torn between two of their own internal values. 

I could cite many cases where this occurs.  

  • “I should tell her but don’t want to cause hurt.”
  • “I should change my eating patterns but don’t want to feel unhappy or deprived.”
  • “I should cut down on alcohol but want to feel relaxed at night.”

As Coaches we set out to accept our client’s values for what they are without ever putting our own into the session.  Health and fitness professionals often struggle with this notion as they have been educated to know what is right or wrong for optimal health and feel obligated to tell their clients what they “should” do.  The shift to allowing the client to take responsibility for their own choices based on their personal values as to what is right or wrong is a big one! But it is necessary. And if we are to live in a world that accepts an individual’s freedom to choose, we must step back and allow them room to do this.

As McKay says, “The right answer for me may be different from the right answer for you, and the right answer for me in my present circumstances may be different from the right answer for me in another set of circumstances.”

Reference:  Hugh McKay, Right and Wrong – how to decide for yourself (2004)