There are a few words I don’t care to hear. “Can’t” is one of them, especially when I hear it from children. It really closes off one’s ingenuity. When we say we “can’t”, instead of asking “how,” we stop looking too seriously for answers to our problems. As much as I don’t like to hear the word “can’t”, there’s one word that’s even worse. If we use it too often it can utterly guarantee we’ll be miserable.
That word is “should.”
Now, naturally, I do believe there are things that we should do like being kind to others, trusting God, and following the 10 Commandments and laws of the Church. But very often using the word “should” is connected with a mindset that deals not with what is but constantly focuses on what one believes should be, and mostly to our own detriment. Think about it.
- The rich should take care of the poor.
- Your in-laws should be nicer to you.
- Our elected representatives should seek solutions by working with others who have differing perspectives.
- Your spouse should take out the garbage.
- Your kids should keep their rooms clean.
- Life should be fair.
- Drunks should not drive cars.
These statements may all be true. Having strong beliefs about morality and good behavior is an honorable thing. But when we focus unduly on what others should do we may sabotage our own power to do what we can do.
Let me explain.
The essence of good mental health can be measured by how well we are conformed with reality. There’s a great saying: “It is what it is.” I find myself saying it often. When I accept what is I’m empowered to respond effectively to the situation in which I find myself. Rather than enduring hours, days, or weeks of angst trying to get others to do what they should do, I can aim my efforts at doing what I am able to do about whatever might need to be done or whatever is distressing me. In the end, the only one I truly have any control over is me.
Differentiating between what I should do and what I can do can also make a big difference in alleviating stress in my life. Sure, there are a lot of things I know I should do but it’s easy to drive myself crazy trying to do them when they may not really be in my power to do them.
Even worse is focusing on what I should have done or not had done after the fact. Repentance is good and helpful when we’ve done wrong but regrets that we hold onto can be toxic. Once you’ve confessed a sin and done what you can to make reparation then you need to cultivate the ability to leave it behind you and move forward. The devil is great at throwing our shortcomings and regrets in our faces and keeping our mistakes in the front of our minds. God, on the other hand wants us to cast them into the abyss of His mercy and get about doing whatever good is in our power to do today. Keep that in mind next time the “shoulds” try to take up residence there.
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