A Pile of Should

Have you ever been in a situation where you are trying to be honest about your fears for the future and the response has been something like, “Don’t go there! You should think positive!”?

Those well-meaning commands hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was stunned into a rare moment of silence. Replaying the words “should” and “positive” in my mind, I sat back with confused indignation. I believe that Gary and I are very positive about life and living, but we are also pragmatically preparing for the future by educating ourselves. It’s really the word “should” that sets me off and I cringe to think of all the times that I have said it to others because I thought I knew all the answers. 


1. used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.
2. used to indicate what is probable.

“Should is not the language of an open mind,” states Dr Carol Dweck in her excellent book, Mindset. Should is not kind or thoughtful when we say it to ourselves or to others. Should feels like a scolding, finger wagging, opinionated judgement that we are doing it all wrong. I wake up guiltily thinking of all things I should do, and I go to sleep thinking of all the things I didn’t do, (but should do tomorrow). I believe the word should is the worst thing you could say to anyone, especially caregivers. Should is a conversation killer, a kick in the pants, a condescending kind of tough love. Nobody needs that kind of love! We all need practical kindness, encouragement, and positive support. 

I have a local mentor who sets an amazing example of how to show support. Her conversations are peppered with phrases like, “Isn’t that interesting,” “That’s wonderful,” and “Tell me how…” She listens intently and purposefully and always makes a positive, thoughtful impact on everyone lucky enough to meet her. She looks for people with vision, and those who have new ideas about making our valley an even better place to live. She never has a “load of should” for others, but instead draws out the passion they have burning deep inside. I want to have the same kind of curiosity and compassion that my friend demonstrates. 

I apologized to Gary as I wrote this, thinking about all the times I have dumped a “pile of should” upon him. Otherwise known as bossy, controlling, or dominant behavior, I have done all of that and more as I tried to make situations fit into my narrow-minded vision. When we are hanging onto our last straw, we sometimes resort to words and behaviors that sound all wrong the minute we let them go.  

My New Year’s resolution is to have a “should free zone” in my mind, my words and my actions. I’m working on changing my language to reflect an attitude of what I can do, could do, and want to do. I believe we could put a giant stop sign out when we are tempted to dump a “pile of should” on ourselves or others, and we can ask those around us to do the same. 

Wish me luck!

The Elk Valley Caregiver Support group meets in Fernie at CBAL(402 Hwy 3, unit 1A) on the 4th Wednesday of each month at 2 pm. (Jan24/24)
For more info contact Marianne Agnew at pineconelodge5305@gmail.com or visit caregiversnetworkek.com
Toll free line: 1-877-489-7044