The world is suffocating with shoulds.
Our culture has moralized everything
from clothing and consumption and contribution
to relationships and routines and religion.
Society is swelling with scores of well-meaning people advising other people on what they are supposed to do.
Wake up early.
Drink more water.
Watch less TV.
Read these books.
Go to college.
Own a home.
Clean your room.
Improve your credit.
We are shoulding all over ourselves.
Yes, some of these activities might improve our lives,
but we suffer if we believe our way is the “right” way
and everything else is “wrong” if it does not align with our ideology.
“Correct” and “incorrect” are personal, situational, perspectival.
And they are detrimental as universal prescriptions and proscriptions.
“Should” is a societal concoction—
one that is propagated by pundits and preachers,
by advertisers and marketers—
but it does not exist in nature.
Even if you grab the “wrong” shirt from the closet,
or place the “wrong” order for lunch,
you didn’t do anything wrong, per se.
You merely made a mistake.
And as long as no one was intentionally harmed,
there’s nothing immoral about a miscalculation.
We go wrong when
we pepper reality with opinions
and pretend that’s the truth.
If you tell me I own the wrong car,
live in the wrong city,
or wear the wrong shoes,
you are assigning your beliefs to me,
posturing like you know what’s “best” for the world.
That off-the-rack self-righteousness does not fit you well.
Indeed, I, too, wore that outfit for nearly four decades,
and it was not fashionable on me, either.
Like a faded fuchsia sweatshirt with tangerine tassels,
righteous indignation does not look good on anyone.
Sure, I get it, you’re “just trying to help.”
But an open palm that slaps my face is not a helping hand.
There are no “right” things to do.
No “proper” material possessions.
No “correct” ways to live.
Anyone who tells you otherwise,
any “principled” person who’s powered by probity,
anyone who endeavors to “fix” you,
any human being who seeks to change another,
places themselves on a vertiginous pedestal.
They may not even know it,
yet they do it because their enfeebled ego
wants only to prove how “right” they are,
so they endeavor to control or shame you
in an effort to validate their worldview.
You see, for them to be right,
all other viewpoints must be wrong.
Oh, the ugly hubris of rectitude.
What is the truth?
You are not supposed to do anything.
Don’t worry, this is not a “bad” thing.
(Good and bad are constructs, too.)
It is a freeing thing.
Without the shackles of self-righteousness,
you are free to be yourself,
to pursue something different from your peers,
to tailor your life to fit you.
But isn’t that selfish? On the contrary:
it is selfish to expect me to contort to meet your demands.
So, you can shed those store-bought expectations,
and you can drop the desire to change the people around you.
There are no shoulds; there are only coulds—possibilities for the future.
A devoted seeker won’t find anything they must do,
but they will discover many things they can do
if they are compelled—
compelled not by society,
but by a deep longing in their heart.