Telling Someone What They Should Do Isn’t Helping
The older I get, the more I see that as humans, we love to tell one another what to do.
Don’t eat that, eat this.
Don’t say that, say this.
Don’t believe that, believe this.
Don’t do that; do this.
You’re wrong, and I’m right, and you should do what I tell you to do.
Isn’t it exhausting?
I can’t help but wonder what the world would be like if we shared fewer opinions about how others were leading their lives, and spending their time, and developing their own careers, and more time focusing on the energy that we put forth.
What would we accomplish in a given day if we stopped pouring energy into what other people were doing, and what we think other people should be doing, and paid more attention to how we’re using our time?
What if, instead of getting into fights on social media, you had a real discussion with another human being over a cup of coffee? Or read a book about a topic that extends beyond your community, your culture, your beliefs, or your values? What if you stopped spouting your own values and ideas long enough to listen to the ones of someone else?
What if, instead of spending time in the comments section of the internet, you went out into the world and did something?
What would happen then?
Let’s not get things misconstrued — sometimes, we tell people what they should do. I tell my two-year-old niece that she should eat her vegetables. I tell my nephew that he should not walk on the sofa. I tell my elementary-aged students that they should not hit one another. I tell my high-school-aged students that it is crucial to study for the test and work hard for what you want.
When we’re teaching children and teenagers, it’s often important to use the word “should,” for that’s how they learn.
But when we’re adults, our impulse to tell another grownup what they “should” do can sometimes get out of control.
Does telling another human what they should or should not do frequently come from a place of wanting to help? And teach? And guide? Sure.
But there’s a fine line between giving advice to someone, and thinking that your values, and knowledge, and needs are the model for everyone else around you.
Telling people what they should or should not value, or what their opinion should or should not be, or what they should or should not believe is not being inclusive. It’s not wise. It’s dismissive.
I hope you give your opinion when the ones you love ask for them. I hope you tell them the truth about what you think, and what you feel, and what your opinion is — and I hope you deliver your words through a lens of love and a clear need to support them, too.
But if nobody is asking you what they should do, if nobody is calling on you for your opinion, perhaps it’d be best if you checked your ego aside, and listened more to the world around you.
Maybe then you’d learn a thing or two.
Maybe then you’d understand more about the humans around you, too.