Should I, Could I?
I remember the very first time that I realized the difference between should and could was far more than a couple of letters. I was newly married and still in college. It was time for me to choose my major.
I was good at math and enjoyed it, so I listed some plausible options: I could teach math. I wasn’t sure I’d like the repetition of teaching the same courses over and over, but it was an option. I could be an engineer or physicist. My dad was an engineer, and he loved his job. I considered accounting, even though I didn’t think I fit the green eyeshade stereotype. I thought it might be cool to be an FBI auditor and catch people laundering money. I had lots of coulds; I liked the feeling of choices. And, I didn’t approach this as a serious, life-threatening decision. Choices allowed me to feel free; and I felt that I couldn’t really make a bad choice.
I wanted to bring my husband into this fun exploration of choices. He said, “You should be an accountant.” That was it. He figured out the answer so quickly. He appeared decisive and sure.
What happened to my fun “could” game? Suddenly, my choices were narrowed down considerably into one nonnegotiable should.
“Why should I be an accountant?” I asked.
“Because accountants make good money, they are always in demand, and I majored in accounting.”
I couldn’t argue with the logic, but the word should just rubbed me the wrong way. “And why did you major in accounting?” I asked, thinking I already knew the answer. He hated accounting so I figured that his misery wanted company. But, I got a different response.
“I chose accounting because my older brothers majored in accounting, and they said I should too.”
“You didn’t choose your own college major?” My mind was trying to make sense of his answer. I could not grasp the concept of making a choice from other people’s shoulds.
Nevertheless, he was my husband; and I realized that accounting was on my could list; so I could choose accounting and make his should happy while not deviating from my could list. Consequently, I majored in accounting. I became an auditor with a large CPA firm, and I did really love my job.
Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broke?
This philosophy of choosing the could that matched his should worked most of the time, and we rarely experienced conflict. But, I’ll admit that at times, the could I chose was not my first choice. Usually, my very long list of coulds overlapped in some way with his short list of shoulds like two mysterious intersecting lines in space.
But the inevitable forces of time and pressure, combined with my disappointment during the times when I didn’t get my favorite choice, managed to eventually create situations that had no common meeting point. It seemed that I was slowly moving closer and closer to choosing life from shoulds.
One time, we had an argument over whether a wife should greet her husband at the door when he comes home. I saw it as a choice. If I happened to be near the door, I would greet him. But if I was in the middle of something, I felt that he could come say hello to me or not. In truth, I didn’t see any point in an official greeting, but I really didn’t see any point in making it a chore. This sounded logical, but I was about to learn that shoulds don’t follow logical reasoning.
Another time, my husband tried to convince me that I should agree to a precise minimum number of sexual interactions per week. Forget about spontaneity or love. His number was not on my could list. I’d be surprised if it was any woman’s could list. So I suggested that he hire a prostitute to make up the difference. My coulds were flexible and extensive.
Now I know for some that sounds strange. But I’m just not jealous, and I don’t think sex and love necessarily go together like Siamese twins. On the other hand, I was not flexible about accepting a should that felt bad. And his number felt like a prison sentence.
The True Nature of Should
Why were his shoulds so inflexible? Turns out, it was not really his fault. Shoulds are always inflexible because we are not the creator of our shoulds. We get them from others who train us to do what they think we should do. If we don’t do as they say, we often get punished or judged. Sometimes, the shoulds are reinforced with guilt or shame.
The depth of the culture and religion of a family determines the amount of shoulds that will be bestowed on the children. My husband came from a very religious and culturally proud family, and they had shoulds for everything.
The True Self Doesn’t Should
Our true Self never demands that we should do anything. Shoulds are dual and exist in the false self’s world of beliefs. One false self passes on their should viruses to other false selves, which keeps them alive.
Remember, my husband thought I should major in accounting because his brothers did. He thought I should greet him at the door because his mother did. I was quick to point out that he grew up in an 800 square foot house; so his mother was always standing near the door. But remember, should doesn’t follow logic. And shocking as it might be, his required sex minimum came from his priest.
Shoulds come from authority figures in our lives. Older siblings, parents, clergy, teachers, and bosses are all superior to us in our young false minds. We are taught that roles, titles, education, certification, or age make one superior. Wisdom no longer makes one an authority because most people don’t know wisdom when they hear it. When we are little, we are trained to listen to authority without questioning them. Beliefs go into our minds like a vacuum sucking dust. The beliefs eventually become the voice of our false self who demands obedience. We fear punishment or judgment if we don’t obey the shoulds. We think that voice is god when it is just a recording.
Over time, my husband’s shoulds became louder and louder in my mind. I found myself honoring the voice to keep peace. I came to fear its judgment. I felt guilty if I even considered a choice that was not on the prescribed list. His voice slowly became my own false god who gave me orders twenty-four hours a day.
Those sweet, delicious coulds of my true Self were muted. I didn’t even want to hear my other choices because I became saddened at the thought of what I was missing.
The most bothersome part of this whole drama was that my husband was happy with his shoulds. That didn’t make sense to me. Why didn’t he feel the emotional pain that I felt?
The answer is easy. He was taught to obey shoulds from a young age. He was rewarded for following other people’s shoulds. He grew up with people surrounding him who followed the same list. He was trained, like most, to put outer reward ahead of inner reward. Following the shoulds of others meant he was good. He didn’t want to drop his shoulds because he felt superior to those who didn’t follow them. They were bad because they didn’t do as they should. His shoulds had payoffs that were too good to risk.
Esoteric Wisdom Frees Us
The ancient mystery schools taught that life appears to be a physical journey, but it is really a mental journey. The physical realm is merely the result of our beliefs. Our beliefs take us off our prescribed path; but if we let them go, we return to our path.
When we follow shoulds, we are obeying a recording that originally came from someone else outside of us. Because of their authority or conviction, we accepted their belief as true. The acceptance of the belief moved us out of the realm of all possibility into the realm of limitation. We always experience emotion when we travel down the road of limitation. Emotion was a gift from the divine — our personal navigation system. If we slow down our thoughts and feel as our mind speaks the authority figure’s belief, we will notice the emotion. The emotion is saying, “You are traveling the wrong way. Don’t listen to them. Turn around!” But rarely does someone slow down their thinking long enough to notice the emotion especially when we are engaged in conversation.
Shoulds always come with very strong emotion. Those who follow shoulds either ignore the emotion or take it as a sign that the should is right. Most people think that what feels bad must be true. They watch the news and believe everything they hear. It must be true since it is on television. But it is not true, it is merely reality. And reality is not the truth. Reality is simply our latest creation based upon our current inventory of beliefs.
Where do we get the idea that something that feels bad is true? First, because our reality looks very real (for lack of a better word). I guess that is why they call it reality. When we see it, we believe it. And once we believe it, we see it again and again.
Also, we often feel the guilt or shame that was originally imposed on us with the belief. If we do what we think we should do, the guilt or shame stops. That usually feels like a big relief. The false self is happy because we obeyed it. With enough training, our primary life goal becomes keeping the false self, and its creators, happy. Our heart’s desires then appear to be temptations instead of carrots to keep us on our path.
If we simply witness the emotion and gently remind ourselves that the should is wrong because it feels bad, the emotion will eventually dissipate; our mind will have newfound clarity, and a new choice will appear. It might be another should; but we can wash, rinse, and repeat until the whole mental stain is removed.
I did this exercise every time I heard my false voice speak a should. I started to regain my old freedom. I started to like my mind again. My health improved, problems disappeared, and joy returned.
Having gone to should hell and back, I could no longer be manipulated into accepting any shoulds from even the highest authority. Those who say one should be heterosexual; that’s their should. Those who say we should be white; that would also be their should. Those who say people should be Christian or Muslim or Jew; they also have a serious should problem. They’ve all got a bad case of the shoulds. Shoulds cause us to impose our beliefs on others. Religion, gender, race, or sexual preference are all coulds. The choice solely belongs to us. And no one else has the right to tell us what we should do.
Esoteric Wisdom of the True Self
Our true Self doesn’t give a damn what we do. It only cares what we think. When our thinking comes from unconditional love and is open to all possibility, we could never harm another. In fact, all war and fighting comes from the idea that we should serve our country, our tribe, our religion, or our family. Shoulds are often intimately connected to pride.
Esoteric wisdom says it this way. Take away duality (two letters of sh) and replace them with one letter of unity (c), and you have found the answer to any problem.
Ironically, the C or K sound is considered the funniest sound in the alphabet. That is why comedy starts with a C. For some reason that sound just makes us laugh. Coulds truly make me joyful. I love the openness of possibility. But, once I made the long journey back to could and reclaimed my sense of humor, it was should that become the funniest word in the English language. Now when someone says I should do something, I just laugh.
Cathy Eck has a Ph.D. in esoteric studies. She is the founder of Gateway To Gold and https://gatewaytogold.com. She is passionate about cracking the code of life’s greatest mysteries and translating ancient wisdom into practical guidance. She mentors others who would like to turn their shoulds into coulds.