Tag Archives: guilt

What Should I write? Should I write? I Should write! Write, I should!

Every now and then, I find myself getting annoyed about a certain word.  Recently, it’s been the word, should.

You’ve probably all heard the phrase “stop shoulding all over me”!

And that’s the sense in which I was taking it; that I should be doing stuff – whatever that stuff happened to be – and if I didn’t, then I was bad and wrong.  And that’s one way it’s commonly used.  To make someone, even if that happens to be yourself, wrong about not doing something.

I should get more exercise.  I should get to bed earlier. You should eat less cookies. You should go on a diet…..should should should.  

This is not a positive way to go about things!  Should I be using should here? That’s one part of the question.  The other part is wondering what should really means based on how it came to be. So when should should be used?

When I start feeling that way about a word, I also get a nagging feeling that maybe as a society we have inadvertently started to misuse it, by adding extra meaning that wasn’t originally associated with that word.

So I  looked into how the word should came to be and here’s what I found in Wiktionary.

It is derived from the Old English word sceolde, a preterite form of sculan. Ok, now there’s 3 words I don’t know anything about: sceolde, preterite, and sculan.  Be patient, it will get clearer, I promise.

Working bass akwards, sculan has origins in Proto-Germanic (skulana) and Proto-Indo-European (skel) and both mean “to owe” or “must, should, shall”. The transitive verb form is the “to owe” and the auxiliary verb is the “shall/should/must” form.  Just to remind us (because I forgot too!), transitive verbs are those that require one or more objects (I kick the ball) but stand alone and auxiliary verbs need other verbs (I shall go to the dance).

Preterite is simple.  Just means belonging wholly to the past.  Sceolde is not used anymore.  It belongs in the past.  So we’ll forget about sceolde for now, although I’m sure that would be an interesting ramble for another time.

Getting back to sculan, there are 3 different senses in which it is used.  The transitive one in which it is purely to owe something to someone.  Could be money, could be a favour, whatever.  The second sense is to be obliged to.  This is a bit more subtle than a simple owing.  This has a must or should flavour to it.  I have to pee, I must find a toilet!  She called me twice yesterday, I really should call her back.  The third sense is the to be going (or about) to do something.  I think I shall call her back.  I shall do my laundry right after I finish this cup of coffee.

And this is where the  guilt and bad connotations arise; using the “obliging” second sense when the “gonna do” third is really where you want to come from.   And vice versa.  I think the problem comes in when we confuse a true obligation with a simple desire.  You’d like to lose 20 pounds and to do that you probably need to increase your activity and decrease or alter your food intake. So you tell yourself “I should lose 20 pounds”.

But you have no obligation to do that! You are not obliged to lose 20 pounds.  You are not obliged to go on a diet.  You’re not obliged to increase your level of exercise.  You may have a strong desire to do this but you may never actually manifest that desire by acting upon it. Unless……and this is a big one, you feel obliged to yourself, or another loved person to do this for. And then you actually act upon that desire or obligation.

(Desire is another ramble for another time.  Humans have been working on that one for as long as we can remember and no one has yet figured it out completely!  So let’s not go there right now, other than to acknowledge that it’s a part of the picture.)

An example of how we might thoughtlessly use should: You think to yourself, I worked really hard this week, I owe it to myself to go out for dinner and see a movie.  In which case you can say, “I worked really hard this week.  I should take myself out for dinner and a movie”.  But to my mind, even better – you can also say “I shall take myself out to dinner and a movie”.  And actually, using shall is way more positive because now you have committed to doing this for yourself, whereas the “should take myself out” has a little bit of uncertainty still attached to it.  As if you feel you owe it to yourself, but you’re not actually going to give yourself that reward.  And bingo, we’re into the guilt trip.  We should have done it but we didn’t!

And let’s be perfectly clear, guilt is a great motivator!  Jewish mothers and grandmothers – mine included –  have capitalized on this for centuries!  It’s such a small piece of pie left, you should eat it so I don’t have to throw it away!  Or “What? I should make your bed?!  Who slept in it!!??”  and so on.

It’s kinda sneaky that way.  Before you know what happened, you shoulded on yourself. Drat!

How can we stop doing that? Well maybe it’s such an ingrained habit we can’t. But I like to believe that we can change, and especially when it’s for the better.

What I recommend is every time you use or are about to use the word should, step back for a second and think whether you’re talking about a must do, an obligation, an owing, or an act that you’re going to or about to do.

Just take a bit more care when using this one.  Be a little  kinder to yourself and others. Think of it as a random act of kindness. I know I shall.




Death by wearing black at night

This is one story that really caught me eye and struck a note of “companionship” for me.

Woman who struck and killed teen is suing his family …

Most people who read this story or heard about it on the news immediately lambasted the driver for this seemingly overboard response.  On the surface, you have to think the woman who is driver of the SUV is totally lacking in compassion and out of her mind to proceed like this!

But let’s take a brief moment and see if we can’t get further in than the first emotions that surface associated with the death of a teenager and look at what really happened and where responsibility truly falls.

A person, in this case a woman, is driving along a road at night and assuming they’re not texting or otherwise being distracted,  hits a couple of cyclists that came out of nowhere!  Literally, out of nowhere!  They were biking at night, had on dark clothing, had NO reflective gear of any kind and were essentially invisible until they appeared in the range of her headlights, which was too late to take effective evasive action.

Let’s remove the actual hitting of the bikers from the situation for a moment.  Let’s say the driver was able to avoid hitting the cyclists, but just barely, had to swerve and maybe almost “cause” an accident by hitting a car in the oncoming lane.  And that she was killed, or injured or caused injury to others in the oncoming car. Or that everyone ended up being ok, just a quick swerve, no harm done to anyone.

Has this ever happened to you?  Well it has to me, numerous times, and not just with cyclists, but with pedestrians, too.  They literally appear out of nowhere.  And not just while I’m driving; also while I’m riding my bike.  And I get really angry at them.  Not just because they almost caused me to have an accident, but also because the last thing I want to do in this life is to cause harm to someone else, especially a person that I have no relationship or history with.  Be different if they had murdered my sister, but these folks are total strangers and I just want them all to have great lives and do wonderful things on this planet.  And now I’ve hit one of them, all because I was traveling in a perfectly normal way and paying as much attention as I could to ALL the input I’m receiving while driving or cycling.

I often yell out at them “You’re invisible! You just came out of nowhere!  Think about that!!” and proceed on.  Might even flip them a “bird” if they don’t even acknowledge me.

Let’s also look at where this is happening, in this case, in Toronto, Canada.  Canada and other northern cities are dark places at night and it gets darker earlier.  It also rains a lot, visibility is often limited and most folks think nothing of it.  Just look around you and you will see a LOT of people wearing dark colours ; blacks, dark browns, purples etc.  They don’t wear bright yellows, reds, blues, and pinks as a general rule.  Those are more “Southern” colours where the sun shines. Vancouver, where I live, especially just seems to like black or dark for clothes.  Granted, dark clothing often makes you look good, coordinates well with just about anything, and is easy for the designers.  But here’s the downside; it makes you invisible at night.  Really invisible.

I can’t tell you how many times I have cursed other cyclists when I almost run into them, even on the bike paths, because they have no lights on their bikes, no reflectors, aren’t wearing helmets and are wearing dark clothes.  They literally come out of nowhere and if you don’t have a very quick response time, you run into them.  Same goes for pedestrians and they’re often even worse because they often have an attitude that you should be giving way to them because they’re on foot so have some a priori right of way and just walk out in front of you as if that’s what they should be doing.

For people driving cars, it’s obviously way worse.  Your response time is often down to less than a second between when the person enters your horizon of visibility and your acting to avoid colliding with them.

Ok, now you’ve hit someone that came out of nowhere.  How do you feel?  Well, I know I would feel terrible and angry.  Both!  Terrible.  Angry.  Guilty. Remorseful. Angry.  And a host of other emotions.

Think about it.  You just killed someone for no apparent reason other than the fact that they gave no thought to their own visibility.  I would be absolutely devastated.  I know I would be in tears and in a state of shock and I’m not sure how well I would be able to carry on for quite a while after that.  I certainly wouldn’t be able to drive my car at night, if at all, for quite some time.  I might even get rid of the car so as not to have it “trigger” the memory of that event.  So yes, I would be in trauma of some kind.

I would also do whatever I could to convey my sorrows to the loved ones of the “victims” of the accident.  And here’s where it gets a bit tricky.

I remember an accident I did have where I ran into an older man who was crossing the street against the light.  I was coming down a hill on my bike and had the light and was going through the intersection when he came out of nowhere, and this was in broad daylight!  He hadn’t seen me coming down the hill, thought the intersection was clear and started walking across the street right when I was cruising through the intersection.  I ran into him, he went down and was unconscious for a while with a bit of bleeding from a head wound.  Bystanders called an ambulance for him and got me off the street and into a nearby school where I could sit and recover from my brief state of shock and the shaking I was undergoing. I went careening head over heels over the handlebars of my bike, got all scraped and bruised in multiple places.  It was a good thing I had my helmet on, which I always do when I’m biking.  After that, I changed my route to work and couldn’t cross that intersection on my bike for a couple of years afterwards.  I did get in touch with the man’s family and both of us were basically ok but it could have been otherwise.  So I have some experience with this kind of situation, and the emotions that arise.

I do take that route again now and I always proceed with extra care through that intersection.  Certainly I was partly responsible for careening into him.  I fully accepted that but he was also responsible for walking into the intersection against the light.  Neither of us were really victims.

I don’t believe that anyone is ever 100% a victim.  Especially not in a situation like this.  These were teens riding their bikes.  Did their parents allow them to ride their bikes in the street at night without wearing a helmet or having reflective gear on both their bodies and on the bikes?  If that wasn’t enforced, then a portion of the responsibility should fall on the parents for my trauma.  There are consequences to actions, both those that are taken and those that are ignored.

Let’s assume the parents communicated all that stuff to their kids about safety, lights, reflectors but the kids think that’s just not COOL.  And it’s such a royal pain in the butt to bother with all that so they just go out and do what kids do, ignore what their parents tell them.  Now who is to blame?  Well, the teenager has to shoulder a large portion of the blame for what just happened to them, don’t you think?  This young man, Brandon Majewski, was 17 years old!  In another year or so, he would be able to vote in elections.  Surely he has to be responsible for his decisions and actions and be ready to accept the inevitable consequences of his actions, both good and bad?

You may not agree but I think in this case he is totally responsible for his actions when riding a bike at night.  He chose not to ride safely, was struck as a consequence of his decisions, and now he is deceased.  What a horrible consequence!!  But it IS a consequenceof HIS actions, not just the driver’s who hit him.

What about the driver?  Remember the driver who ran into Brandon?  She didn’t kill him, not literally in the sense of setting out to cause him any harm at all.  This was not a premeditated act to bring about a death. He’s dead because he created a situation that resulted in that.  And the driver is now left with all kinds of unforeseen consequences, one of which is quite possibly post-traumatic stress disorder.  Who is taking care of her needs?

Well, she is.  She’s suing the parents of the boy who caused her this distress.  Everyone needs to take some responsibility and blame at some level here but looking at the situation from a somewhat objective viewpoint, I’d say that she is the the least responsible of the 3 parties and certainly deserves compensation for what happened to her.

Ideally, what I’d envision is that she and the parents could get together and commiserate and all show compassion for each other’s feelings but that doesn’t seem to have happened.  And no one came forward offering to help her deal with what’s happened to her; to pay for counseling, medications if needed, compensation for lost hours at work and whatever else may have arisen from the media attention.  So she’s taken the matter into her own hands, and is proceeding along the path that she sees as the most reasonable.

Personally, I applaud her for that.  It may be seen as uncaring and lacking in compassion for the boy’s family but I see it as taking care of herself.  No one else is going to help her out so she has to help herself.  And this is the help she has decided will be therapeutic for her.

I think our society needs to pay attention to this and give her credit for her actions.  She is not acting wrongly here.  She is acting out of self preservation.

Again, think about this situation from her point of view.  Put yourself in that driver’s seat and think about how it would affect you and how you would deal with it.  I don’t think I would sue and I know not everyone would take her actions but everyone has a different set of life experiences that inform the actions they take and for her, this may appear as the best and the only solution.

That’s all I really ask here.  Just take a moment to sit with the whole situation before you lash out emotionally at someone. We’d all be a lot better off if people did that a little more often.

Wishing compassion for everyone,