I think you should…

…fuck off with the “You should…” suggestions.

Over the summer, a galpal of mine and I were sitting at a tapas bar in Durham, unencumbered by daily responsibilities of parenting and work, feasting and chattering about life in general.  This particular friendship is new and genuinely treasured because Galpal reminds me very much of Kate (Yes, I realize the gravity of that statement and I’m trying not to make that Galpal’s burden because that’s a fucking nightmare of a standard to live up to).  Also, she is wise, brave and just emerging from a serious life overhaul.  I, on the other hand, find myself feeling positively clueless, largely afraid of my own shadow and in the midst of watching everything I spent my entire adult life working for crumble around me.  2015 has been anything but kind or fair for me and a lot of my friends.  I may even go so far as to say that 2015 has been even more challenging and painful than the year following Kate’s death, which says quite a lot since I essentially shut down in 2011.  The only difference between now and then is that in 2011, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to shut down.  This year, no such luck.  This year, I had to figure out how to move forward and solve my problems while still managing all that requires management.  Had it not been for Galpal and numerous others (some new faces, some familiar faces), I highly doubt I would have been able to pull it off.  Strong and stubborn as I may be, I’m still very much the person who eyeballs that sofa longingly and fights the urge to crawl beneath it and stay hidden for weeks at a time.  If Milkface didn’t need to get to or from school and if I didn’t have to justify my existence during a re-org, my ass would have been under that sofa with a box of Kleenex and a bottle of benzos.  We all know that to be true.

As we were talking about life, in general, the significant obstacles Galpal has overcome and the hideous list of shit that I have to address, the subject of friendly advice (solicited or not) entered the conversation.  One’s friends and loved ones genuinely mean well.  If you care about someone, it’s painful to watch them struggle.  When you’re emotionally invested in someone, you want to help solve their problems.  Unless, of course, you’re an entirely selfish asshat and then you just let them flounder.  There are those in life who, as I say, like to watch the world burn.  But, the well-intended will always be there for you and that is a genuinely amazing thing.  Whether it’s holding your hand while you’re crying, bringing you bottles of booze, taking you out and giving you a much needed change in scenery, sharing their hard-earned wisdom or just making you laugh, the well-intended are treasures.  I consider myself to be beyond fortunate to have many in my life.  And, of course, because I’m an obsessive perfectionist, I usually feel guilty for not appreciating them enough or acknowledging how much they do for me, how much they mean to me and how much they enrich my life.

The conversation went on and I remember going back to something Galpal said a friend of hers mentioned.  It was a “You should…” statement.  “You should go out and do…”  And there, at the bar, I found myself annoyed.  Annoyed bordering on slightly angry.  “You should…”  What “should” any of us do?  Really.  We’re not talking about a life or death issue.  We’re not talking about managing an illness.  We’re not talking about anything critical in nature.  We’re talking about benign lifestyle choices.  We’re talking about things that could potentially make us happy, right?  But when someone says “You should…” and then follows it up with a suggestion that is more suitable to their personality and their needs, it’s not really a suggestion that is suitable for the person being spoken to.  No, it’s a statement about what makes someone else happy and the assumption is “It makes me happy.  It will make you happy, too.”  Again, a great intent and likely very sincere.  Yet, not remotely applicable.  You can’t tell someone to do something and expect a good outcome if the action doesn’t work for the individual.  I can no more tell someone to write down their feelings if they’re not interested in writing than a rando suggesting that I declutter my house, clean or cook a meal to make myself feel better as I have no interest in doing any of those things.  I also lack the time and the energy.

Giving the “You should…” statements the fair benefit of the doubt, one knows the person saying them means well.  The person genuinely cares.  The person wants to see the other person happy and fulfilled.  “You should…” when it comes to certain lifestyle choices is nothing more than an opinion.  While we value our friends’ input, opinions don’t often solutions make.  Sometimes, the opinion can actually make things worse via making the audience feel badly because if the listener doesn’t follow the “You should…” then there’s a feeling of guilt.  “You should…” brings along a lot of negative implications.

Let’s be honest here, are any of us happy when an order is barked at us?  And isn’t “You should…” an order?  Or…am I that loath to direction that I am interpreting something otherwise innocuous as a command?  Therein lies part of the problem.  Shouldn’t we always speak or write to the level of our audience and consider the interpretation of our message?  If I said “You should consider your message because I think you sound like a fucking asshole when you dole out unsolicited advice.” would you interpret my message as helpful and warm or would you say “Fuck.  I managed to piss off Kang.  Again.  Why is she always so fucking brittle?”

That night, at the tapas bar, I decided I detested the “You should…” sentiment.  A few days later, I texted Galpal and said “I’m striking that from my language.  I feel that strongly about this.  I’m no longer going to say ‘You should…’ to anyone.”  For the most part, I have been successful.  Sometimes, I’ll trot it out in a snarktatstic sense.  Sometimes, I catch myself about to say it and then have to stop, correct myself and think of a more meaningful way to frame advice.  Other times, I have finally embraced the most difficult thing of all – keeping one’s mouth shut and just listening to your friends and offering comfort.  Because, if I have learned anything from this fucktastic shitstain of a year, it’s that I know very little about life and that in spite of your hardest work/efforts, your master plans and your intentions; you’re going to be diverted from your path.  And, oddly enough, those diversions aren’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen, either.  Sure, they’re fraught with pain and fear, but they’re also opportunities to learn, grow and challenge yourself.  You never end up on the losing end if you’re gaining something.  Knowledge is something so…there you be.

So, in summary, “You should…” statements fucking suck.  They’re arrogant.  They imply that the person making the statement knows what is best for you and that isn’t always the case, especially in life’s grey areas.  And, to reference a conversation from this morning with Blitz, it’s high time we all “stop defining stuff for other people and not worry about fitting in anyone else’s fucking box.”  Sometimes, things aren’t going to make fucking sense.  Sometimes, the people you love are going to struggle and there isn’t going to be the magical potion that will make them immediately peaceful and happy.  Sometimes, you’re going to have to watch them sort it out on their own and stand by them as they do.  There will be times when we can’t solve problems for other people (unless the problem is solely financial and one of us has a fuckton of money they can part with).  Most of the time, what makes you happy isn’t going to necessarily satisfy someone else entirely or, dare I say, at all.

No more “You should…” anything.  Unless, of course, it’s “You should stop making these statements.”

14 thoughts on “I think you should…

  1. “You might want to consider”, or as the great Rod Serling on Twilight Zone so eloquoently put it, back in the days when eloquence was possible: “I submit for your approval”.

    • “How ’bout…”
      “Might I suggest…”
      “Sometimes this helps me…”

      After Dock was done editing (otherwise known as destroying art and my soul), he said “You know, this was actually a really good piece, conceptually.” Herr Editor does not usually praise me.

      Then we started talking about “you should…” and he said “Well, sometimes I say to one of my coworkers ‘Oh, you should have called that person a flaming asshole’ in the sense that we both know he wouldn’t because that would be unprofessional. That would be an instance where it would be ok, right?”

      I looked at him, above my glasses, with my usual blank stare. Then I said “Think about it. Even though the intent wasn’t there, it still sounds like a demand or a command. Neither one of our personalities cares for that shit.”

      Dock repeated the sentence. Then he said “You oughta…” and the light bulb above the head went off.

      I’m not necessarily suggesting we reinvent the language or overhaul our approach. Sometimes, there’s no getting around “You should…” But in casual conversation, it just seems so presumptuous and smarmy. I think I would rather hear “oftentimes” or “chillax” which says a metric fuckton of how much I now despise the “You should…” sentiment.

  2. Fascinating thing is, I spent four hours yesterday afternoon helping a friend with her homework. She is taking a distance education thingamajiggie, and the current course is on Interpersonal Communication. She is writing a paper on Non-Violent Communication, and it deals specifically with this issue. Breaking down what you say, and what you hear, and trying to apply that perspective before either interpreting what you’re given, or before you respond. It involves just a few simple steps, that could be drilled into almost anyone’s head.
    1. Receive, listen, interpret.
    2. Identify feelings.
    3. Identify needs.
    4. Respond/request.

    Just takes a mo. Just a little time to breathe. Okay, a little idealistic, but a good guide, and better than tramping the fuck all over each other.

    • That approach is so simple, yet so sensitive. Just imagine the number of issues that could be avoided if we thoughtfully processed information before responding. Instead, we formulate our responses as the words are coming at us instead of listening to the entire response before even starting to think about what we should say (if we say anything, at all). I know I’m certainly guilty of that, especially at the worst times when emotions are high or I’m feeling unusually guarded, nervous, insecure, etc… (basically, every transaction with any person I don’t know well or a person I know too well).

      Since I have a tendency to lean towards being this hyper-clinical, unemotional automaton at times, I built a visual framework in my noodle a few years ago to help slow down my noisy brain. :raises the freak flag: I started visualizing a funnel, a sifter and a sorter – a Rube Goldberg contraption – that processed the words as they were coming at me. Whatever it takes to realize that my response is secondary and the primary focus needs to be the message I’m receiving. :shrugs:

      All that said, I still end up auditing conversations and find myself thinking “Oooooof! You fucked up there, Kang!!!” or “There’s an opportunity blown…”

      How does one correct those instances? Should those instances be corrected, I wonder?

      And for those thinking “Oh good gravy, she thinks too much,” I shall counter with “Thinking too little says a lot about you.” ಠ⌣ಠ

  3. In my family we call it “Shoulding”. And we do it ourselves, too, don’t forget. So if we catch ourselves saying things like “I should be spending more time reading the collected works of Shakespeare” , then we say “Oh, I just shoulded myself.” If we do make the mistake of telling someone else what to do, we say we shoulded on them.
    Also? I feel like this article speaks to what you’re getting at. http://heatherplett.com/2015/03/hold-space/

    • Amy,

      Thank you so very much for the lovely comment and insight. I really like the “shoulding” concept, particularly how your family and you apply it to yourselves. It’s one thing to be cognizant of how we treat others. It’s another to be self-aware. Like many, I frequently forget about being kind to myself (I’m my favorite punching bag).

      Heather Plett’s piece on “Holding Space” moved me to tears. I have bookmarked this and I have a pretty strong feeling that I’ll be referencing this repeatedly, just in my role as a parent alone. Thank you so much for sharing it. It’s definitely something we can all learn from and use daily.


  4. Check this out, from dictionary.com:

    used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.
    “he should have been careful”
    used to indicate what is probable.
    “£348 m should be enough to buy him out”

    The word ‘should’ is therefore an inherently judgmental statement. It’s used to indicate obligation or to criticize someone’s actions. That’s just bullshit and it should stop. Oh wait…

    • :snortle:

      So, what does one do when one is supposed to say “I should” as opposed to “I would?” Or, have we moved away from “I should” as proper diction?

      Not that it *should* matter. 😉

      :stuffs pedant back in pedant box:

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