Did you Just Should on Me?


Recently, I complained about somebody using the word “should” on me.  Another person then complained about my choice to “use the full beauty of the English language” (language that some might refer to as “harsh” or “colorful”), so how could I possibly be upset about the word “should”.

When I was a young man, I remember a woman telling me, “You should never say ‘should’.”  For an hour or two we explored the idea.  In the end, I conceded her point: “should” sorta frames a relationship as one person is greater and the other is lessor.


And then a couple of years ago, a friend of mine opened that door again.  I conceded again. This time the attempt to frame the relationship was basically the same error, only my friend suggested the word “should” is a word that is used by the parent to teach a child, or by the master to teach a padowan.  So when you use the word to suggest what somebody else “should” do, you are suggesting that you are the parent/master and the other party is the child/padowan.

I suspect that this is one of those things that is not absolutely true, but there is a lot of truth in it.

If someone says, “I found a great article. You should read it.”

I take that to mean:

1) You are claiming to be an authority on what would be good for me to read
2) The implication of teacher/student
3) Assignment of obligation on my time


I feel that if I wish to live my life in a way that is contrary to what you see that I “should” do, that I owe you an explanation.  So rather than taking it as a suggestion, there seems to be this bit of assigned chore – unless I can provide a sufficient excuse to the teacher/parent.

Another angle is that I can choose between compliance or entering into a state of conflict.

I manage two really large forums. One about permaculture and one about software engineering.  I am trying to create a space for the gentle souls to share their experiences (and I should point out here, that this would be my idea of “gentle souls” (see how I used the word “should” on myself?)).  So while there might be some people that feel the word “should” does not carry a master/servant package, I think the majority do, to varying degrees.  So I suppose this is a feeble attempt to bring this to light.

If nothing else, please compare “I found a great article.  You should read it.” and “I found a great article.” …. or “I found a great article. I think you would enjoy it.”

The word “should” is seriously embedded in our culture and habits. And I think it is possible that it may have slightly different meanings for different people. And I think it definitely can be detrimental to communication as well as relationships.

Discuss this more in a thread dedicated to this blog
at permies.com:



See the entire Paul Wheaton archive.

paul-wheaton-bioPaul Wheaton is the tyrannical dictator of Permies.com, the largest permaculture forum on the web. As a certified master gardener and permaculture designer, he’s built an empire around what he calls, ‘infecting brains with permaculture’. His forums are full of rich information, and there are a number of great free resources, guides, and articles that can be found on his sister site, Richsoil.com as well.

Most recently, he has worked with rocket mass heater experts Ernie and Erica in developing a DVD set on making your own rocket mass heater, and has produced another video series on permaculture gardening, which detail how to use hugelkultur, swales, and natural ponds to capture and utilize water without irrigation. His recent work with natural buildings based on Mike Oehler’s designs have resulted in the creation of the Wofati, a semi underground natural home design.

Crowned the Duke of Permaculture by Geoff Lawton and the Bad Boy of Permaculture by the Occupy Monsanto movement, Paul continues to educate and inspire at his property – dubbed Wheaton Labs – in western Montana, where he conducts experiments in permaculture and natural building, hosts workshops, and entertains the curious passerby. More information on stays at the property can be found here.