Becoming the Living Poet

Don’t Take Candy From Strangers & Don’t Listen To “Shoulds”

Posted on: April 24, 2009

This is the second half of Maybe If You Don’t Want To Do Something You “Shouldn’t” which was becoming frightening in it’s length and breadth so I split it into two posts for the sake of readability.

So I stopped going to S.A.M.E.‘s organizing meetings and in the near the future (I’ll keep checking in with myself on this one) I’ve stopped going to marches because it got to be so scary that it was hurting me. I wasn’t rising above my fear, I was sinking in it and gritting my teeth and slogging through it while coughing on the quicksand. This is a phenomenon I believe Havi would explain much less verbosely as forcing yourself to leave your comfort zone rather than growing your comfort zone.

And now I want to bring this incredibly, caricaturishly long post disguised as two rather long posts, back to the original take home statement:

Not wanting to do something you “should” want to do is a completely legitimate reason for not doing it.

I would be remiss if I were to start talking about the concept of the “should” and not give credit to a fellow Havi disciple, Lucy Viret who wrote a brilliant post yesterday teasing out the concept that there is no “should”.

In a really good conversation I had yesterday it suddenly occurred to me that some very traumatizing moments in my past happened largely because I was entirely focused on the “should” of the moment and not my own desire to not be in the situation I was in. To be a little less vague (but not much because this isn’t something I’m ready to talk about here) I was afraid, but my fear did not feel legitimate to me. It felt like something I needed to overcome so I ignored it as best I could because you “should” always face your fears or so I thought at the time. But in those situations and I think in many situations, the fear was legitimate (actually fear is always legitimate, it just isn’t always rational). The fear unlike the “should” was coming from inside of me, whereas the “should” was just some common sense, general knowledge sort of thing free-floating through the world that I latched onto.

Was I wrong to latch onto the “should”? Well, no. It was a popular “should” that I’m sure has served many people much better than it served me. And let’s get away from phrases like “wrong” for a second. I’m an agnostic for Bob’s sake and yet I keep running into this nasty streak of moral absolutism in both my thinking and my writing.

The take home point from all of this is that it was not useful and indeed harmful to trust a stranger, a wayward floating “should”, over my own internal preferences. Not wanting to do something “should” (yeah, I know, shoulds are like roaches, they’re pesky buggers to kill) have been a neutral position, but it wasn’t because it conflicted with the external more popular “should” that visited my brain, gave me bad advice, and didn’t even leave a dollar in the box for the slice of pizza it ate.

The dissenting voice on this question is what happens when the “should” is something with authority behind it like paying your taxes. No one wants to pay their taxes but they “should” because if they don’t then they’ll go to prison.

But I don’t think this disproves the take home point at all and here’s why:

You only think you pay your taxes because of the all-knowing power of the “should”. Really you pay your taxes because your internal preference is to not go to prison. (Now we get into questions of coercion and what constitutes a free choice if the alternative is something that no reasonable person would choose and all that jazz but that’s a very long conversation for another time, so let’s get back to the main point.)

Not wanting to do something you “should” want to do is a completely legitimate reason for not doing it.

If you’re making a decision that is good for you, it’s never the “should” that holds the explanatory power for the decision. The “should” is a mental shortcut for an if/then statement. I don’t care about the consequences. Well, you “should” because if you ignore them then…

If you look at the most probable consequences of your actions honestly “shoulds” become completely irrelevant. (As long as you know yourself well enough to understand in a general way what outcome is desirable, but that’s another subject entirely and let’s not muddy this beautiful moment of mental clarity.)

So that’s all for now and I hope I’ve written these two posts (which are really one post) clearly enough so that I can come back and read them periodically and understand what the heck I was getting at when I wrote them because I think for this whole being kind to myself journey that I’ve been on for the last couple of months (and probably less consciously for most of my life) this issue is at the heart of the matter.

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2 Responses to "Don’t Take Candy From Strangers & Don’t Listen To “Shoulds”"

[…] The Living Poet Don’t Take Candy From Strangers & Don’t Listen To “Shoulds” My Life Without Me: The San Diego Feminist […]

[…] and protect the rights of a protected minority class. As a result I was compelled to come out of protest retirement and take to the streets with several thousand other outraged San Diegans and march from Balboa Park […]

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