When “Should” You Do Something?
“Hey Chad, you should do this exercise, not that exercise!” “Hey Stacy, you should eat this, not that!” Listen to people speak in everyday language and you will hear the word “should” dropped all over the place. It seems everyone is eager to tell you what you should or should not be doing. “Should” is a very powerful and weighty word. Have you ever thought about what that word means, what it implies when used, and most importantly, when to grant it the reverence it deserves? Today, we are going to dive into those questions.
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At its most generous usage (and I admit this is probably being too generous), when people use the word “should” in everyday conversation, they are attempting to convey that they have an opinion, a judgement, on some situation and if they mean well, they simply want what they believe is best for you. The problem is that rarely does such a person know anywhere near enough about you and your situation to reach such a conclusion. Rather, most of the time the person is simply trying to assert some sort of dominance and/or control over you.
People in society really don’t like that other people have free will. That may be easier to see these past few years than ever before. They are seeking control over a life out of control. And, rather than working to gain control over their own life, they find it easier to simply (and ultimately unjustly) assume a position of expertise on anything and everything and then to impose that will on everyone around them.
Think about my first example above. “Chad, you should do this exercise!” Well how well do they know Chad? Do they follow him around each and every moment of the day, logging everything they do, all their activity, exercises, calories consumed, etc.? Do they know Chad’s entire medical history? Do they know everything Chad has or hasn’t done up to this point? No, of course they don’t. And this is assuming they have some expertise in the subject in the first place. Even with such an expertise, who are they to tell Chad what Chad should do? Based on what?
By what standard should you do (or not do) something?
This is the crux of the word. When someone uses the word “should” they are automatically importing an entire area of philosophy called Normative Ethics. Fortunately, this was my area of focus while obtaining my oh-so-valuable degree in philosophy, so I’ve read a thing or two on the subject.
Put simply, Normative Ethics examines what we ought to do, based on some moral standard. But before you can know what you ought to do, you need to first have that moral standard clearly defined. This requires a lot of work. It takes years for a person to clearly outline a moral standard to live by. And to make things more difficult, there isn’t even a consensus of what moral standard is the moral standard we ought to use! (Did you notice the inherent recursion in that notion?) If we are not careful, we can “ought” ourselves to death. Hence, why so many people today just throw out the entire field of ethics and instead focus on constructs of “power” in society.
Fortunately for you, you are reading me, and I have a honed skill in bullshit detection.
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