Tag Archives: quotables

Accidental Philosophy: The Futility of “Should”

“Should” is a useless word. 

-Delilah S. Dawson, Hit

There’s something that’s been bugging me for a while now. I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I couldn’t name it, so it just sort of floated around in the back of my brain like a dragon fly, darting this way and that, sometimes getting right up in your face, then skittering away whenever you swat at it or grab for it.

It’s about people, and the way we talk to each other, and the way we talk about the world. Specifically, it’s about certain kinds of people and the way they want the world to be. You know these people. They talk about the way the world ought to be, saying things like “wouldn’t it be better if …” or “things would be perfect if only …”

And some of these people even find their way into office in this country. And they start making laws and enacting statutes and directing policy to bend things to the way they say they “ought to be”. Trouble is, things are what they are, and changing them around isn’t so easy as that. Especially when the things are people.

Before I get too carried away, let me wander back to the point. My leisure reading the last two weeks was Delilah S. Dawson’s Hit, a YA dystopian thriller about a future where banks have seized control of the country and are forcing children to become debt-collecting hitmen.

(Why kids? Because it’s too diabolical to be believed, and who’s gonna point a gun at a kid coming to their door? And also, because YA. Pretty wild, but who cares, it was a fun read.)

Anyway, about a third of the way into the book, one of the characters is lamenting their situation and moaning about how “things shouldn’t be this way” and the protagonist snaps back, “should is a useless word.”

I read that. And all of a sudden, that dragonfly in my brain stopped skittering, landed on a lonely dendrite, and took root.

“Should” is a useless word. Yet it’s one we use all the time.

“I should have gotten up earlier.” Yeah, I should have, but I didn’t — so what am I going to do about it?

“People shouldn’t steal.” Yeah, they shouldn’t, but they do — so what are we going to do about it?

“He shouldn’t have even been there.” Yeah, but he was — so what are you going to do about it?

See what happens there? Any time somebody says “so-and-so should …” there’s an automatic “but” followed by a “so what” that comes in response.

“Should” seems more and more to me like the refuge of the coward. It says, “I don’t like this situation, so instead I’m going to talk about what I would rather it had been (yikes, grammar is hard when you get rid of “should”) without doing anything about it.” And yeah, sometimes the “should” statement is followed by action, but a lot of times, it isn’t. A lot of the time, we just say “well, it should be this other way” and we leave it at that.

For that matter, a lot of what people go around “shoulding” about has nothing to do with them. “Gay people shouldn’t get married.” “Women shouldn’t be in those jobs.” “He should take better care of himself.” None of which has anything to do with the person saying it. We have a rule in my house and in my classroom. Rule #1. MYOB. Mind Your Own Business.

The fact is, people use “should” to hide from things they don’t like, from things that make them uncomfortable, from things that scare them. They use “should” to build a fantasy world in their heads. A make-believe universe where things are perfect, unoffensive, unscary. “Should” represents a fundamental failure (or, worse, refusal) to see the world as it is in favor of how we expect it to be.

But the “shoulding” doesn’t do a damn thing. Things are what they are, and all the shoulds in the world won’t change them.

What changes things is action.

And guess what?

You can take action without griping about how things “should” be first. Address things as they are, recognize that there is no such thing as “perfect” (because the world we live in is messy and filled with other people who don’t automatically agree with you) and work to make things better.

Don’t waste your time moaning about the way things “should” be.

Get to work on fixing what’s wrong.


More Quotes, More Inspirational Crap, and I’m not very good at writing about music

Yesterday’s brush with a motivational quote that speaks to me put me in mind of another one that more directly influenced my recent onset of brain fever, AKA throwing down the ink-gauntlet and declaring myself a writer.  Incidentally, the quote is from a band, which is double dumb on me because I typically profess not to get all wound up in the lyrics to songs.  In my defense, how can you?  I listen to the radio every day and wish I didn’t because the songs are so literarily (yep, I did it) barren that it hurts my English teacher brain.  And yeah, okay, I’m sure there are bands out there dropping crazy good poetry penned by angels, but I’m over thirty; I don’t have time to go hunting out new music like I did in my younger and more formative years.  Basically I turn on Pandora and let some music I’ve never heard and never will again wash over my subconscious.

But Pandora’s responsible for this, and I do enjoy Pandora.  I can count on one hand the number of full CDs I’ve bought in the last several years, and I need less hands than that to count the CDs I’m glad I bought.  I also just realized that I’m totally aging myself by referring to it as a CD even at this point.  Does anybody buy CDs?  What do you call it when you buy it online now?  An album?  Sharknado, I’m too old to care about the lingo.

ANYWAY.  AWOLNATION.  The caps are the band’s, not mine.  That’s the band and they’re responsible for the quote.  I don’t know things about music.  I can’t write about it.  They’re best known for Sail, which came out in 2010, and is not the song in question.  Ugh, I’m getting sidetracked.  This is not about the music.  It’s about the words, which are usually at odds with the music.  In fact with AWOLNATION I think the lyrics usually are at odds with the music, which may in fact be the point.  Blarg, there I go off the road again.

Anyway, they have a song called “Kill Your Heroes”.  The video for it is a crackup, riffing on good old Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and the message is brilliant.  The song as a whole isn’t bad either, but what really gets me is the line at the end of the first verse.

“Never let your fear decide your fate.”

This writing thing, for me, has been a thing that I’ve wanted to try for a long time, but well, I’ve always been afraid of failing.  Afraid that people won’t like what I put out there, that I will never find any measure of success at it, that it will be a waste of my time.  The fact is, those fears may be well-founded.  I may never have success at it, people may not like what I have to offer, and if that be the case, then it sure may turn out to be a colossal waste of my time.

But then, it won’t be, really, because I’m having an absolute ball just writing the novel and writing the blarg here for my audience of a handful (so far!).  And I may not come to anything, and in a few years maybe I’ll have burned out on this and moved on to some other crazy obsession (Civil War Reenactments have always fascinated me.  That’s not a joke.).

But at least this time, I won’t let my fear of the thing keep me from trying the thing.


1350 more words today, and the train keeps on a-rollin’.

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