What we reveal when we say ‘should’

Last week I looked at a few common causes of anger.  This week I’d like to explore one of the most intriguing of them all, and it reveals something miraculous about you.

Some of us get angry when our view of how the world should be clashes with the stark reality of how it actually is.  He should have done this, but he did that…she shouldn’t have said that (but did)…he shouldn’t have behaved that way, and so on.

Sometimes we look at ourselves the same way.  I shouldn’t have been so stupid…I should have realised she would do that…I should never have said that.  And sometimes we rail against the way the world is: we should do more to feed the hungry…we shouldn’t go to war…

Mystics and philosophers tell us that it’s pointless trying to mould our world and ourselves into what it should be, and instead accept things as they are.  In ethical philosophy, it’s known as normative, and shapes the way the world should be through a series of maxims (eg, people shouldn’t murder – but they do, of course, so a more pragmatic ethical system would instead start from that premise).

Biologists agree.  If we are, indeed, complex sensory-input, carbon-based bipeds, why do we keep imagining what isn’t there, or wishing away what’s in front of us?

But I’m intrigued by that ubiquitous word should, because I think it gives us a clue about ourselves.  You see, I think we constantly use should because that’s how the world once was for us.

Once upon a time you were whole and at one with the world.  There was no distinction between you and a world outside, and child development experts confirm this.  This blissful state lasted from birth and for several years afterwards, depending on how intrusive the world was for you.  You can get an idea of when that happened from the first memories you have – because from that moment there was someone to remember.  There is a ‘you’ having experience of the ‘other’.

Once that happens, you are out of Eden and into the world.  But the memory stays, even though it gets ever fainter over the years, and one of its expressions is in the word should.  So when we say should, we aren’t wishing the world as we want it to be, we’re remembering how it once was experienced by us.

Saying ‘should’ is one of the ways we give a passing nod to the unified state, even if we do not realise we’re doing so.  But it’s not just in the expressions we use; more interesting still are our actions that are an attempt to get back to that state, again done without realising their true purpose or aim.  Many of us have that metaphysical itch we can’t quite scratch, but believe that somehow the gaining of wealth, or status, prestige or possessions might just do it for us.

But that’s for another day and another blog.

In the meantime, watch when you say should…and wonder why you say it.

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