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Did you just "should" on me?  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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When I was a young man, I remember a woman telling me "you should never say 'should'". For an hour or two we explored this idea.

And then a couple of years ago, a friend of mine opened that door again.

The general idea goes something like this: the word "should" is a word that is used by the parent to teach a child, or by the master to teach a padowan. So when you use the word to suggest what somebody else "should" do, you are suggesting that you are the parent/master and the other party is the child/padowan.

I suspect that this one of those things that is not absolutely true, but there is a lot of truth to it.

Recently, somebody wrote a post that included the word "should" that contained as aspect that I had never considered.

the more i see and hear, the less i know for sure, but if you tell me what i "should " be doing for the welfare of the planet, be ready for an intensive search into your closet and careful examination of every inconsistency.


The author was asked to modify their post to be less confrontational, and the author instantly complied, which is lovely. At the same time, I thought the message was quite valid and have decided to share it here.

I guess I'm thinking that the function of these forums is to build a richer understanding of homesteading and permaculture. (and even more specifically, topics I like in ways that I like) A bit of care with the word "should" might help improve our overall velocity.

I created this thread with the idea of directing people here when the word is used in an uncomfortable way. Anybody else have anything to add for people that might be using the word "should" inappropriately?
 
John Elliott
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This is merely a bizarre artifact of the English language and its reliance on modal verbs for shades of meaning. Reading meaning into "could", "ought", and "should", sometimes where no such meaning was intended, is a major failing of English. Were we to dispense with these hard-to-decipher constructions, we would be left with what other languages use: subjunctive phrases. In a true subjunctive phrase, you have to add some substance to make your shade of meaning known: whose opinion is this? how strongly is this opinion held? is it contrary to fact, or just in appearance? English speakers blow this off when they load up their speech with coulda-shoulda-woulda.

What we "should" do is dependent on the ethic we want to follow. That we are able to obscure the presence of that ethic by dropping in a modal "should" instead of explaining ourselves is the source of the problem. Next time you question the use of "should", say "should? according to what guiding principle?"
 
Charles Tarnard
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A way to avoid this pedantic crap all together is to just describe suggestions as being something that 'I would do.'

'I would prefer to not use plastic in that application' is much less forceful than 'you shouldn't use plastic.' You can even list a bunch of reasons why you would make that choice to strengthen up your suggestion.

Everyone should take my advice on this.
 
wayne stephen
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"Should" could be used in a nice supportive way . Such as "I was thinking about pitching in a hundred bucks for Pauls latest kickstarting campaign". A hearty slap on the back and a jovial "Yes ! You should , My Good Man . Yes , you should !" would be a polite and positive response .
 
Dan Boone
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When I feel the need to say "should" and can't supress it, I go for softening phrases: "I wonder if you should [whatever] if your goal is to..."
 
ariel greenwood
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Dan Boone wrote:When I feel the need to say "should" and can't supress it, I go for softening phrases: "I wonder if you should [whatever] if your goal is to..."


yeah. that's better.

I don't know that "should" is inherently problematic, but I do think that more often than not it creates an unhelpful personal dynamic.

to my mind there are a couple of things going on - the first is that one rarely has enough information to suggest what another person should do. best practice is still relative. looking at ecological dynamics, with their myriad interdepencies and contingencies, I get the sense that "it depends" is a better perspective than the more binary "should / should not."

the second is that even if we do somehow know what someone ought to do, having considered their personal context and the various nuances of their life, that manner of expressing it is not likely the most effective. this is what Dan is getting at. I tend to go for "you might consider ..." but this implies that I am genuinely interested in the best outcome for them or the planet. if I'm in a more base state and I am trying to prop myself up as an authority, "you should" does just fine just joking, but I think Paul's assessment on that is pretty solid.

does that mean it's wrong for me to say "you should explore permaculture" to someone? not necessarily. but there is a chance that it's not what someone should actually be involved in at that time. it may not be the most relevant. maybe there are more pressing things to attend to in their life and maybe going down the permaculture rabbit hole would be at the cost of something that must come before. and maybe it'd sound better if I said "given your interest in XYZ, you might consider looking into this thing called permaculture..."

my worst experiences with the word "should" come from when I use it with myself. some kind of aggregate of the best of a hundred people whom I respect becomes a bullying voice that tells me things like "if you take your practice seriously, you should not be relaxing right now!" or "you should not be goofing off, ever! you have the planet to save!" and to remedy this inner bully I've decided to treat it like a hurt child, and offer as much grace to the various other parts of my mind that are vulnerable to this kind of bullying as I would my friends whom I want to support.

one last thought, then it's back to building new pig pastures: for me, the most infuriating thing about "should" is when someone says I should do something I was already planning on doing. that's worse than their suggesting something inappropriate for me because at least in those situations I could say "I've thought about that, but actually, because of these other factors ..." but if someone says I should do what I already was intending to do, and says it in a way that implies they didn't think I'd thought about it or was intending to, it ticks me off. probably a little personal issue of mine revolving around being thought of as stupid.
 
Lauren Reinkens
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One is always at liberty to frame one's own interpretation of a message to reflect their particular state of mind. I've never found it possible to change the way others communicate, only the way I perceive and respond.
 
R Scott
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This is one of my libertarian hot button pet peeves. Sometimes I want to respond with "You can't make me!! NANA NANA NANA!!!" Or the more mature "F U"

I have spent so much time dealing with technical standards that SHOULD has a specific meaning to me. It means "I want to force you to do this but I know I can't so I am going to try to guilt you into it"

 
cheryl ann
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"Should" is a weasel-word that I especially look out for when uttered by IT staff -- "There, that should work!" Ooops! Yes, of course it _should_ work. The question is, "Does it?!?!"

That being said, my late aunt Linda used to refer to that little "should" bird "shoulding" on her shoulder.
 
Margaret Smith
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There is a saying in NLP: "I will not should n myself today"
 
John Copinger
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Why are people so sensitive? If someone tells me "you should.........." and I don't agree then I just tell them that I don't agree, I don't feel that someone is being agressive when they use should.
When I see the number of Americans that died on the beaches of Normandy 6 June 1944 I think you Americans should be proud.
 
Margaret Smith
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"I will not should on myself today"
Is the correct quote. I almost said " It should have said."
 
Ludger Merkens
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Charles Tarnard wrote:'I would prefer to not use plastic in that application' is much less forceful than 'you shouldn't use plastic.'


Sorry to disagree, but to my ears, this is almost as bad as the 'should' phrase. Probably because 'I hear' the attempt to avoid the use of 'should'. Any 'recipe' how one can avoid a problem is probably doomed to fail in the long run. To become aware of the problem, that one might be (or just sound) too 'bossy' (hope thats an actual term) is great for any form of communication.

Thanks Paul!
 
John Ackley
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Just heard an interview this morning in which the interviewee described "you should" as coming from the Tower (presumed unimpeachable - a lecture), "you could" as coming from the Front Door (a little more approachable - a workshop), and "I would" or "I am doing" as coming from the Field (we're all in this together - a conversation).

"Should" implies that there is no more thinking required, just do it this way. "Could" implies there are other options, and therefore more thinking is required to evaluate this and the other options in your personal context.

Like cheryl ann, "should" is a "sleep" word for me, I always perk up a little more when I hear it.
 
bob day
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Thanks for the comments Paul.

I studied enough of neural linguistic programming years ago to get a pretty good understanding of the basic principles. While it is true that many words are used without conscious intent to dominate or subordinate, that does not change the words or lessen the potential impact on the hearer. And it also does not excuse us from looking to see what is the unconscious motivation that we may be harboring.

So we can use speech and precise use of language in two ways. First to examine unconscious intent and discover what our speech patterns say about our unacknowledged attitudes.

second, we can use those speech patterns as a conscious mechanism to reach in and change our unconscious mind/programming, most of which was installed by our parents or early life conditioning

so by deliberately focusing on our use of language we can change our minds (the one that is there under the surface that is really in charge and defies all our conscious rational intent).

For instance, the control freak might find the use of "you have to" to be prevalent and consciously changing those word patterns could actually reach inside them and give them a different relationship with those around them--just by being careful with language

So i do believe that not only do we lubricate the frictions that might arise by imprecise language, but when we speak to each other as equal partners, we actually change our inner unconscious patterns to become more harmonious.

the reactions that many(most) of us have when someone "shoulds" us would change to consideration if it was a simple question "have you ever considered?" ideas are more readily accepted and personal relationships become easier, information passes more freely, the whole system speeds up, and we are working out our inner dysfunctions at the same time we are saving the planet.


namaste'
 
Nick Kitchener
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From a technical documentation perspective, the word "should" is used when a particular requirement or action is advisable, and optional:
http://asq.org/standards-shall-should

I personally distinguish between the words should and must. They are two different words and have two different meanings. The lack of grammar in our modern education system really does us all a disservice IMHO.
 
Rw Wood
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Nick Kitchener wrote:From a technical documentation perspective, the word "should" is used when a particular requirement or action is advisable, and optional:
http://asq.org/standards-shall-should

I personally distinguish between the words should and must. They are two different words and have two different meanings. The lack of grammar in our modern education system really does us all a disservice IMHO.


This is actually pretty good definition of the grammatical use of "should". But the problem is not, I think, one of grammar, rather of the out-of-control preoccupation of our culture with political correctness and an almost illogical fear of offending someone. If I'm engaged in a discussion with a reasonably intelligent adult, I very well may say, "You should do so and so," with the implied understanding that my use of "should" is an expression of my opinion, which the other individual may accept or reject, substituting his/her (another bow to political correctness) own "should." I refuse to take offense when someone tells me what they think is a course of action that I should follow. They are in essence attempting to state what they think is in my best interest. "Should" I be offended that they have expressed a desire to help me rather than telling me to bugger off and figure it out for myself? I think not.

My $.02, and you shouldn't be offended by it.
 
Josey Hains
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I just want to add that some people are not native English speakers (I am not) and are not aware of the problem. To me "should" is not negative at all. I realize it can be and probably is to many people but not everybody knows this.
 
bob day
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Hi Nick, The document you used to reference the words should and shall is an interesting choice in that it was specifically referencing legalities of the words in legal regulations, so if a law says "should" you might get away with ignoring it, but you might also get called to task for your judgement in a civil suit later on if something goes wrong. The nature of the document itself is superior (legal/compulsory) to inferior-worker/citizen bound by the law

I think Paul's discussion of the word is the more common understanding , so while not compulsory, the tone of the word implies inequality between speaker and spoken to
 
Upgeya Pew
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I've been learning and teaching Compassionate Communication (also known as Nonviolent Communication or NVC) for over a decade. NVC has a particular understanding of the subtleties of the English language that might be helpful here. The words we choose to communicate can either be windows or walls. They can give insight into our aliveness, or they can block connection. Moreover, each language has constructions and uses of words that operate mostly unconsciously in our communication. The reason the use of language, word choice, and sentence construction is so important is because language and thinking are so intimately connected. One hugely influences the other. Without the ability to think clearly, it's difficult to distinguish between interpretation and observation, feelings and thoughts, requests and demands, and needs and strategies. Given the importance of accurate observation and interaction between elements (in this case human beings) in Permaculture, you might begin to see why addressing this issue opens up an entire area for personal development in being a more powerful designer.

I think our culture is based in violence and domination. We can see this domination in our attitudes towards the earth - that it belongs to us, to do whatever we want - rather than we belong to it, to care for and steward it. In this culture, I think our language has evolved a command and control orientation. Our language, perception and thinking are filled with

1) Moralistic judgment (right/wrong, good/bad, blame, criticism, praise, compliment);
2) Diagnosis (static thinking about what people are, including enemy images);
3) Demands (have to, must, should, obligation);
4) Deserve thinking (punishment and reward).

NVC sees this kind of thinking and communication as tragic expressions of pain and unmet needs we all share as human beings. These carry life-connected information in an ineffective and costly form. Judgments and subtle demands aren't a “bad” thing - they are a tragic thing, because they express a deep need in a way that makes it very difficult to get that need met. “Every judgment is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”

Such is the case with words like "should", "have to", "ought to", "must" which are often meant, and often interpreted as subtle demands or denial of choice - both of ourselves in our own self-talk, and with others. Note that the use of these subtle demands allows us to avoid the use of the word "I" and appeal to a nebulous 3rd party authority, who is not present in the room to challenge or address. Using the word "I" impels us to take more personal responsibility for whatever it is we want. Almost all sentences that contain "you should" can be rephrased and made more powerful and effective by instead saying "I want you to ...", or "I would like...", or "Would you be willing to....". While subtle demands have the power to manipulate others (and ourselves) through unconscious automatic conditioning, they rob us of our power by having us buy into the unseen authority behind the demand perpetuating patterns of what I (and others) call victim consciousness. I urge you to try re-thinking and rephrasing such speech and thinking. I predict that the difficulty and resistance you experience doing that will teach you a lot about any unconscious language and cultural conditioning you might carry.

As other posters have outlined here, we sometimes use these words with intentions or in contexts that indicate no demand is present in any way. However, given the kind of upbringing most of us receive, where we are told what to do as children, we often interpret and hear such language as limiting our choice, autonomy and freedom. Believe it or not, we actually have a choice when we hear such language, about how we hear it. We can hear it as being about ourselves, or we can hear it as being about the other. We can hear it as being about the power of that unseen authority, or we can hear it as being about what is alive in the other person. In NVC, we often use words that describe feelings and needs to describe this aliveness. In other words, our power lies in our ability to direct our attention in more life-serving ways - to what is alive in the other person, rather than into some limited victim consciousness limiting our options.

This subject is vast and huge, and so my few words here do not really do it justice. If you find yourself using this kind of language and would like to try something else, here are my suggestions:

1) When I hear myself think or say “I have to”, “I should”, “I ought to”, or “I must”, I change it to “I choose to” or “I want to” or “I would like to”, or “I prefer”.
2) When I hear myself think or say the words “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, I sense what I’m feeling and my needs that are either being met or un-met.
3) When I hear myself labeling or criticizing myself or others, I practice translating this into “I feel … because I need ….”
4) When I hear myself think or say what I don’t want, I re-phrase it to say what I do want as a positive statement.
5) When I hear myself think or say “I feel like…” or “I feel that…”, I realize that I’m expressing a thought, and I find and express the real feelings underneath the thought.
6) When I hear myself think or say “You/It made me feel”, I think or say “I feel … because I need …”.
7) When I hear myself think or say “You have to”, “You should”, “You ought to”, or “You must”, I change it to “I would like you to…”, or “Would you be willing to…”.

 
wayne stephen
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"Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” - Buddha

To paraphrase :

"Whatever words we utter "should" should be chosen with care for people will hear it and be influenced by it for good or ill." - Me
 
Nick Kitchener
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I think Viktor Frankl spoke a fundamental truth when he said that the only thing we have complete control over is our attitude. He learned this while in the Nazi concentration camps btw.

He maintained that because nobody has the power to change your attitude than you, there is no such thing as being offended by someone. You simply choose to take offence.
Nobody can "put" you in a bad mood. You choose that mood based on someone's action.

I personally think that there most definitely exists inequality between people. The teacher / student relationship is a perfect example because the teacher (hopefully) has knowledge and wisdom beyond that of the student and they take on the role of teacher out of a desire to transfer that knowledge and wisdom.

I also believe in the existence of right and wrong, obligations, rights, and justice. As a result, I think the word "should" is a legitimate word regardless of it's common misuse.
 
bob day
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wow, thanks for the discussion on Non Violent communication, perfect for this thread
 
Mar Barak
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put your time and money where your 'should' is.
 
Len Ovens
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I would add the phrases "we should" or "someone should". "We should" is really bad because it sounds like the speaker wishes action... In my experience, even when I use these phrases, what is really meant is that the speaker wants something done to scratch their itch, but they are not really willing to do it themselves, they want it done for them. My general thought is, if someone has an itch and wants to see something happen, go do it. If that person finds themselves working alone, then that is fine, it is their personal vision. If what this person is doing catches someone else's imagination, Great! they will join in without being asked. "I should" is ok, the speaker is the one who decides if their own vision is worth anything.

On the other hand, where there is a contract involved (written or verbal) "should" may be a way of someone asking the other party to fulfill their end of the deal. It may be a less offensive word than "fired" or "sue" for example
 
Cassie Langstraat
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Wow. Great discussion. I honestly never have thought about this word so deeply. I have never realized all of the implications of it but I definitely can see how detrimental it can be now. I feel like a dick because I definitely use it in the wrong ways all of the time, especially to my partner. Whoops. Time for Cas to pay attention a little bit more.
 
ariel greenwood
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Upgeya Pew wrote:I've been learning and teaching Compassionate Communication (also known as Nonviolent Communication or NVC) for over a decade. NVC has a particular understanding of the subtleties of the English language that might be helpful here. ...



thank you for that. I've read & will reread your post. I was hoping someone would bring NVC into this. and I like that I am encountering it through permacultural avenues.
 
John Polk
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Personally, I feel that this thread has merely demonstrated that a simple word can have many uses, and its interpretation (or misinterpretation) can lead to misunderstanding. How each of us interpret it in the context given may differ. Somebody with a superiority complex, may see it as folly, an inferiority complex may see it as a demand, while a more neutral person would just see another option.

"I found a great article. You should read it." That, in no way implies an obligation, a directive, nor teacher/student relationship. It merely implies that I found the article of great interest to me, and it might behoove you to read it also.

"You should stop using Round Up on your weeds.", on the other hand is more of a directive to you (the lesser of us), from me, the superior member of the conversation.

In the US Coast Guard examinations, if you do not know the distinction between "shall" and "may", you will never pass the Rules of the Road Exam. Although the difference is not quite so obvious, "should" and "must" are two words with different meanings.

If the word is bolded, capitalized or otherwise emphasized, then it becomes more of a directive. In common speech, it is just a (perhaps not so subtle) hint to one of your options.
 
paul wheaton
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"I found a great article. You should read it." That, in no way implies an obligation, a directive, nor teacher/student relationship


If you say that to me, I see:

81) you are claiming to be an authority on what would be good for me to read.

82) the implication of teacher/student.

83) assignment of obligation on my time.

I feel that if I wish to live my life in a way that is contrary to what you see that I "should" do, that I owe you an explanation.

Granted, I am quite comfortable that when someone hits me with a "should" I will say "no", "hell no", "fuck off", etc. So I think that the "should" contains an obligation of either compliance or I owe an explanation. And if I am going to travel any other path, it is as if I am creating conflict.

At the same time I am trying to create a space for the gentle souls to share their experiences (and I should point out here, my idea of "gentle souls"). So while there might be some people that feel the word "should" does not carry a master/servant package, I think the majority do, to varying degrees. So I suppose this thread is an attempt to bring this to light.

If nothing else, please compare "I found a great article. You should read it." and "I found a great article." .... or "I found a great article. I think you would enjoy it."

The word "should" is seriously embedded in our culture and habits. And I think it is possible that may have slightly different meanings for different people.



Earlier this year we fired up the cider press and somebody said

My point is that if you have a political forum, then it should be ...


The implication is that there is only one rational path. As it turns out, there are many rational paths. And, if I choose a path that is contrary to the "should" then it would seem that I am entering into conflict with this person.


 
Josef Theisen
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And here is this thread in song form.

 
Josef Theisen
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Wow, thanks for the apples! The band is called Wookiefoot and they are amazing.

Sorry about veering off topic, but I am convince the folks here will like this song even more than the last one.

It's called "Junk Food" Both songs are from the album Be Fearless and Play



 
Bill Ramsey
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I'm glad to see that I'm in the company of like minds. The attempts of others to set a perceived pecking order like a flock of chickens have been one of my biggest stumbling blocks for quite some time and I find that the older I get, the less tolerance I have for it. Thank you all for these insights and tools to consider. The word "should" is such a small part of the overall mindset but it does open the door to understanding a much more extensive strategy to declare "I'm more than you. You're less than me". I used to see it as spiritual immaturity and I could ignore most of it but the constant bombardment of it from all sides has taken a toll on my outlook of all of humanity. That is a big part of why my 5 acre sanctuary is so important. I'm just glad to see that others are also conscious of it. So again, thanks for the discussion.
 
Noel Deering
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Wow. I totally understand and appreciate, Paul, your efforts to ensure that your site is nothing like the YouTube comments section, but in my opinion, that is being waaaaaaaay too sensitive. I agree with John Copinger, who posted earlier.

And what happened to "the full beauty of the English language"?
 
Dale Hodgins
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I truly enjoy hearing what others think I should do. It's particularly fun when someone of no visible accomplishment is very vocal about how I should manage my life. I usually listen to their whole speil, even if it goes the way of a personal manafesto on how I should live. They often mistake silence as a sign that I am easily lead. When they finish, I lay out exactly how I intend to proceed. If the advice was shockingly poor, I might say," I'm not nearly stupid enough to do it that way, but if I ever have a lobotomy, I may try that. "
 
Sue Rine
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I certainly appreciate the effort that goes in to keeping the forums here friendly and 'should' free but it shocks me that it is necessary. I've just never come across the tendency to 'should',(or worse), amongst the fellow permies I meet here in NZ.
 
Noel Deering
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Lauren Reinkens wrote:One is always at liberty to frame one's own interpretation of a message to reflect their particular state of mind. I've never found it possible to change the way others communicate, only the way I perceive and respond.


I think Lauren Reinkens hit the nail on the head even better than Copinger.

When I posted earlier, I had in mind a recent conversation with my new neighbors. I noticed an impressive thistle crop in their horse pasture and I think I said something like, "You should look into the work of Joel Salatin and Allan Savory...and rotational grazing..." I'd be willing to bet they never once felt like my slaves or my children, and I damn sure didn't feel like anyone's master or parent. I was being helpful and I can't understand such extreme sensitivity.

That said, Paul, your point about it being your site and your rules is the most apt. So be it. And what a great site it is!

 
Ross Hunter
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How ironic, a thread about "should", telling you what words you shouldn't use. I agree with Noel and John. Being easily offended is not a good thing. It's possible some of the people who are seeing the word that way actually experienced a situation where the person speaking to them was controlling or condescending. For them, it could be a strong memory that they are dealing with.
 
Cassie Langstraat
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Ross Hunter wrote: Being easily offended is not a good thing.


I think it is important to keep in mind that everyone has a different level of sensitivity and that is okay. Some people are offended by things because it hurts them or it would hurt someone else and because of their high level of sensitivity and empathy, it hurts them. Just because you can't "understand such sensitivity" doesn't mean that it isn't a real thing for people and that they need to change so that you can understand them.
 
Did you ever grow anything in the garden of your mind? - Fred Rogers. Tiny ad:
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