The Should Meter

One way to stop being sure of things is to get addicted to that insidious word should.

"Where's the drugstore?" "It should be nearby."

"Is he coming to the party?" "Well he should be."

"Did she like your gift?" "Well, she should have."

"Does the new system work?" "Well, it certainly should."

"Why would I do it that way?" "Because you should!"

You can see the trouble: none of those replies answers the question. The should addict thinks he is telling you what he knows, but he is only telling you what he wants. The penalty for obsessing on should is that you are vividly aware of what you want, and in a fog about everything else.

Imagine standing at the mall directory finding that drugstore. You look for the sticker that says. "You are here." Instead, thereís a sticker at the location of the drugstore: "You should be here." You have to agree, but itís no help in getting there. To get from here to there, you need to be objective rather than subjective.

The objective should comes at the end of a process of reasonable investigation, and applies to a logical course of action aimed at gaining a rational value. The subjective should comes first. It puts what you want above what you see, as if having a wish were more important than getting the wish—as if wanting were more important than doing. It implies that the way to get what you want is to demand it.

The objective thinker knows that should must be earned. He is careful to have plenty of facts for every "should." The subjectivist thinks that should must be declared. He asserts his right to live by declaring his demands on reality.

The right to live is the right to do what you decide. There is no right to demand that others do what you decide. Only after you know all the facts can you think about changing them. Substituting wishes for facts condemns you to live alone in your personal universe of uncertainty.

To improve your certainty, keep the Should Meter handy. When the count of shoulds starts rising, go back and look for facts. The facts were there before you, and will be there after you. If you don't know what they are, then what good is it to know what they should be? To start finding how to get somewhere, find where you are now.

Subjective habits of mind try to put what you want above what you know. They take the end point, evaluation, as the starting point. They are the equivalent not just of trying to walk on your hands instead of your feet, but of trying to walk on the ceiling. That's why addicts of should spend their lives falling down.

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