The Most Dangerous Word in Any Language

There is one word that holds more power than any other to cause emotional melt down. This word is responsible for road rage, relationship breakdown and neighbourhood violence. No other word in any language has the ability to turn someone into a terrorist, a murderer or a vigilante. How can one small word cause our emotions to spiral so out of control and be the underlying cause of all human conflict?

The word is SHOULD. This word, often unspoken, lies at the heart of every conflict.  Let’s look at a few examples.  Your teenage son was supposed to pick up the ingredients for dinner on the way home from work, but he arrives home without them.  You become angry.  Why?  Because he should have remembered to pick them up. It should have been important to him.

Your neighbour’s trees have started impinging onto your property.  You think he should cut them down.  You become annoyed and cut the overhanging branches yourself and throw them back into his property.  He becomes very angry because he thinks you shouldn’t have done that.

It takes one side to start a conflict, but two sides to maintain one.  It takes two people or groups who maintain their position and who use should as the underlying justification.

Your partner forgets your wedding anniversary.  You are furious and feel hurt.  He should have remembered. A work colleague insults you in front of the other staff members.  You feel humiliated and annoyed.  Why?  Because she should not have spoken to you like that.

Think back to the latest argument you had with your partner, sibling or child.  Think about the last conflict with a neighbour, boss or friend.  If you dig deeply enough you will find there is a ‘should’ lurking there causing trouble. What should they have done?  What shouldn’t they have done?

Not a single example of a conflict springs to mind in which the word ‘should’ is not at the very centre. Can you think of one?

Now you might argue that your boss shouldn’t have spoken harshly, the son should have picked up the cooked chicken, your husband should have remembered your anniversary.  In an ideal world that is true.  But this is not an ideal world.

Now the problem with ‘should’ is not the word itself.  It is the position one adopts as a consequence of holding onto that position.  Our first response to any situation in which we feel wronged, might be one of ‘should.’  It is often my own position, temporarily.

In the course of my own personal development I have found that the happiest and less stressed people in the world are those who carry less ‘shoulds.’  In other words, the less judgemental you are the happier you are. The more we are able to see the other as human and fallible and develop compassion for the other, the fewer conflicts develop in our life generally.

I have discovered another amazing consequence of adopting a middle ground approach instead of a polarity one and that is the less you take offence by what others do, the more they stop doing it to you.

Consider the position adopted by the Dalai Lama in relation to Chinese occupation of Tibet. Obviously he would prefer that the Chinese never invaded his homeland in the first place.  But, stills he adopts a middle ground approach, not a polarity position.  Why?  The Dalai Lama did not need the famous psychologist Jung to teach him, ‘What you resist persists.’ This knowledge is not only part of Buddhist philosophy, it is a fundamental spiritual truth.

This peaceful attitude even when faced with an unpalatable situation is what separates the Dalai Lama from the general population.

One individual or group might engage in behaviour that causes a reaction in us, but it takes the second party to adopt a polarity position in order to create and maintain a conflict.  There is no more resistant word in any language than ‘should.

Stress levels are on the increase in the Western world and the truth is we create our own stress.  Stress is always caused by our own perception of situations.  Here is a useful exercise to reduce stress and to maintain healthier relationships.

Just for one day, become aware of your feelings.  What has made you annoyed, frustrated or angry today?   Ask yourself. ‘Where is the ‘should’ in this situation?’ and then see if you are able to adopt a middle ground.

Of course it is much easier to let it go when you are not dealing with very close relationships.   They of course, are the most challenging ones.  That is why you choose them.  Try it with acquaintances, work colleagues, neighbours and don’t forget to find the judgements you make about yourself.

When you start recognising your ‘shoulds’ and stop using them as justifications for your emotional responses, not only will you feel happier and less stressed, you will inevitably be healthier and you will have gained much more control over your emotions.  And all this just by eliminating the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary.

If you’d like to learn how dropping this one word from your unspoken vocabulary can decrease your stress levels, improve your relationships and your health, then book a one off session with me in which I can not only show you how important this is but you will FEEL differently about a couple of issues that might be stressing you out right now.



10 Responses to The Most Dangerous Word in Any Language

  1. Natalie Hennessey January 28, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Hi Madonna, I always feel that the word ‘should’ takes away our choices. It is heavy and laden with expectations. If we replace it with ‘could’ then it is our responsibility to choose to do something or not. Great post.

    • Madonna January 28, 2012 at 11:59 am #

      So true Natalie. It also blames other people for the way we feel. Madonna

  2. Gwen January 28, 2012 at 4:26 am #

    Love this post! Definitely have to become more aware of the “shoulds” in my life! 🙂
    Gwen recently posted..When Things Go Wrong as They Sometimes WillMy Profile

    • Madonna January 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

      Thanks Gwen. I was a real ‘should’ person many years ago. Still need to remind myself at times. Madonna

  3. Nicole Bandes January 28, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    Great post. We really should eliminate that word from our vocabulary! 😉 Seriously though, it’s about making those conscious choices to stop being a victim.
    Nicole Bandes recently posted..Tip 27 How To Accomplish that Dreaded TaskMy Profile

    • Madonna January 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      Hi Nicole, You are so correct about the victim status. We could personally remove the word from our vocabulary.

  4. Jenny
    January 28, 2012 at 12:52 am #

    Wow! This is so true–that word definitely puts you on the defensive! Great post–as usual Madonna 🙂

    Happy Friday & Cheers to your health!
    Jenny recently posted..Fabulous Friday–How Do You Get YOUR ‘Fit’ On?My Profile

    • Madonna January 28, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

      Hi Jenny,
      There was a time when I used the word constantly and even more so unconsciously. Feel blessed to have changed my perception.

  5. Heidi January 27, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    Great article Madonna! Also the “should” that feeds guilt – “I should/shouldn’t have done that”, “I should be doing this instead”.

    • Madonna January 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      Hi Heidi,
      Yes, I agree about the guilt and then comes some form of self put down. The whole concept is insidious.
      It really takes away our power.

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