SHOULDING all over your life

I, like the vast majority of the billions of people on this Earth, have a habit of beating myself up.  It’s one of those things we are socialized to do.  As a baby we bite mom’s nipple and hear her cry out in pain and displeasure, and so we learn not to do it again to avoid that punishing reaction.  As a toddler we learn not to leave our toys in the hallway because Daddy will put us in time-out. To avoid the punishment of time-out we pick up our toys.  And so it continues – detentions in school are avoided by us doing our homework, we work hard in order to not be told off for bad grades, scoldings and spankings from our parents teach us our SHOULDS.

We all have our own shoulds.  I should wake up early to get to work on time.  I should save money for retirement.  I should speak kindly to someone who has offended me.  I should protect my virginity until I am a married woman. I should go to church on Sunday.  I should pay my bills on time.  I should complete my education.  I should brush my hair 100 strokes before going to bed at night.  I should do this, I should be that, and I should go there…

Let’s face it.  There is a SHOULD for every minute of our waking lives.  In the words of one of my closest friends, a life coach, “We are SHOULDING all over ourselves!”

In a growing awareness around my own shoulds, I have come across some interesting understandings.  I don’t have to be right about any of them but this is what has been mined from my own life.

At the bottom of every guilt tower is the foundation of a SHOULD

  1. A SHOULD is a boundary past which a person feels it is impossible to cross without punishment.  It’s like an electric fence – you know the ones where the family dog has a collar that sends a jolt of electricity if he gets too close to the borders?  Well our SHOULDS are our collars.  They send a crippling fear through our being when we hit the edge of our comfort zone.
  2. We are fully responsible for the fence!  In fact, we set the fence up.  Now why would the family dog do that to himself?  Why would he set the stakes down at the edge of his family’s property and put the collar on his own neck?  A dog wants to be FREE!  Free to chase the neighbour’s cat or swim in the neighbour’s pool when it gets too hot.  It makes no sense that he would do that to himself.  Why then would we?  Why do we set our own fence up?  Yes, as children we are taught our shoulds.  But as adults with keys to the house, why do we keep the fence?
  3. Shoulds get in the way.  When you are put on a train running on rails you are only able to follow the direction that those rails go in.  People before you have set those rails down, toiled and laboured to lay those tracks.  And so, on a train set on rails, you are only able to go where people before you have been.  Think of all the places in the world that have never seen a train!  Think of all the places that have never seen a human being!  To stay on that train is to never be able to see those places. And so it is with shoulds.  Your shoulds keep you on the rails.  Shoulds take you only where you and those who have taught you have been before.  The power of your own mind and the uniqueness of your own creativity and your own journey cannot be found on the rails of shoulds.
  4. The punishment is never as bad as it seems.  Sometimes it doesn’t even exist.  Here we are referring to run-of-the-mill shoulds – not the shoulds in the penal code that say things like “You should not rape your neighbour’s wife”.  Laws and crimes aside, the freedom beyond your electric fence is more enormous and more delicious than you can ever imagine sat in your own yard.  The little electric shock that comes from busting through the barrier is often a small price to pay for so big a prize!
  5. How we experience the world beyond the should depends very much on whether we are able to leave the should behind.  Sometimes we pass the barrier and carry the fence.  From shoulds come guilt.  What is guilt but a bunch of busted shoulds?  Look at something that makes you feel guilt.  Look deeper for the should at its foundation.  If you took the should out of the foundation, like a jenga tower you’ll see the guilt fall down.  I’ll give you an example.  Last week I planned to run 9 miles.  I set a goal and went a step further and created a should.  Each morning, however, I woke up with a pain in my right foot and aches in my knees.  I have had knee trouble before and know the danger of pushing too hard and so I opted not to run on those mornings.  At the end of the week I had not run my 9 miles and was feeling quite guilty about it.  Looking closely at my guilt I found the SHOULD.  I SHOULD run 9 miles this week.  Taking the should out of the foundation I looked again at the facts – each morning I woke up in pain, that pain would have worsened with running, I was not wrong to not run.  And POOF – guilt was gone.
  6. There are no good SHOULDS.  In my humble opinion, shoulds are judgments formed about what is.  It isn’t the should that is important, but the thing that is.  Shoulds are statements of exclusion, limitation, and punishment around the thing that is.  It is very easy to find shoulds in your life that you think are constructive – we all have some shoulds that we like the most.  But are they really healthy?  A should makes you wrong or right.  If you abide by your should you get to reward yourself by feeling good.  If you breach your should you get to punish yourself for being bad.  I say quit beating yourself up!  The world outside of your shoulds is much bigger than all of this punishment and reward stuff!  More important still, the SELF you have outside of your SHOULDS is much bigger than all of this!

I’ll leave you with a test to perform on your own life – see if this Should assessment works for you.  If it doesn’t and you like your shoulds just the way they are, throw out my opinion without a second thought.  But if you face down even the shoulds you like and test them and find them wanting, please feel free to let me know.

Take your favourite shoulds – the ones that you like – and list them out.  I’ll list a few of my favourites out for you.

  1. I should work out and be healthy.
  2. I should speak kindly to my employees.
  3. I should work a minimum of 8 hours a day to enrich the lives of my clients.
  4. I should visit my grandmother weekly.
  5. I should bathe my dogs once a week.

Now turn your shoulds in to statements of fact, commitment or identity.  Neither right nor wrong, these are I DO, I WILL or I AM statements.

  1. I will work out and be healthy.
  2. I am an employer who speaks kindly to my employees.
  3. I do work a minimum of 8 hours a day to enrich the lives of my clients.
  4. I do visit my grandmother weekly.
  5. I will bathe my dogs once a week.

When a week passes and I haven’t worked out, what is there to do with my statement?  Working out is no longer a SHOULD but a WILL.  When a should is broken, the beatings begin.  I say, put the bat down.  Simply say it again.  I will work out and be healthy.  Recommit to who you have decided to be and what you have decided to be.  Is a should needed to make it happen?  I am sure you will see that it isn’t.

Looking forward to hearing about your shoulds!

The The Impotence Of Proofreading

I sent it to my staff and told them I never want to hear about errors in emails again.  And to Bushlette.  And to my mother.  And to my anal retentive English teacher.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OonDPGwAyfQ&playnext=1&list=PL7A6309E73B10D0AD&feature=results_main]

A Tragedy of Delay: I turned 18 in an election year…

Committed to Democracy

I was so excited!  My voice was finally going to be heard!  18 and full of opinions, full of optimism, there was nothing I didn’t know.  I was especially sure that I would put down my X where it would count.  I was as sure about that as I was sure that I wanted to one day be the first female Leader of Government Business.  Mind you, I hadn’t yet decided who I was going to vote for.  But serving my country was all I ever wanted to do.  My little X would mark the beginning of that journey and the end of it was limited only by the sky.  Me and Cayman, we were in love back then!

And then the General Election was called for… get this… 4 DAYS before my 18th birthday.  I was crushed!

Four years to wait and in those four years another election was called.  I had been overseas at University before the registration deadline but had sent my documents in to be registered in time. My dreams were not very different but I wanted to be educated.  I’d heard that world leaders throughout time had often been best prepared with a law degree.  And so I was off getting me one.  The officer who received my documents misplaced them for some or no reason.  I came home from University sure that I would vote.  This time I’d even gone so far as to say I know who I will vote for.  Only to find out my name was not on the list. And so I missed that one too.  As you can well imagine, I was disappointed.  When would I become a political adult?  A voice that would be counted?

Resigned to the realities, I settled myself to work for the Elections Office.  If I couldn’t be a part of the decision, I would at least be a part of the process.  It was the first election I worked and I’ve worked for every one since.  I was a poll clerk in Bodden Town and after the close of the polls I got in my car and made it to St. George’s Anglican Church from BT Primary School in five minutes to be a part of the count.  It was the first time I saw the ballot papers come to life and a decision that would change history and it was remarkable.  It was so remarkable I wrote about it in my diary… the experience had to be put into words.  The entry was shown to one of my parents who asked me to type it up.  It ended up in the Caymanian Compass.  It was a gorgeous experience that I will never forget and I’m glad that I had the presence of mind to write it all down.

Another four years came by and by this time I was living in West Bay.  When the time came to register I didn’t.  This wasn’t my district and I hadn’t become connected to the process.  It wasn’t about parties or personalities but I’d have loved to have cast my first vote in Bodden Town.  As it wasn’t possible without some false declarations I settled back and decided this time I would voluntarily pass.  It was the beginning of practiced indifference that has led to the entry of earlier today.  I now am part of a growing statistic of young and eligible Caymanians who have never voted.

In this year, however, I ran a polling station for the first time.  I wasn’t selected for the count but I was no less fascinated by the process.  It cemented in my mind a commitment to democracy as the system above all others, where those who vote cannot complain and where losers cannot claim that victors have denied them an opportunity to contribute.

I have today worked in several elections, including the Referendum of the past week as a servant to democracy.  Democracy itself, not politics.  The system itself, not the names populating the ballot or the parties that have waved their flags.

Yes, I have never registered to vote.  To be clear, it wasn’t for lack of trying – at least not at first.  I didn’t register in time for this Referendum, but I might have if I’d been paying attention.

It didn’t begin in an indifferent and irresponsible place, this question To Vote or Not To Vote.  It began with someone who really wanted to, a lover of country and of countryman working hard to do good.

What surprises me is that I am not the only one not registered to vote.  There are hundreds of my peers who have had a far more convenient opportunity to vote and never have.  I note with interest that there are near 15,000 registered voters in Cayman.  When you consider that my high school was near 1,000 and that we qualified at 18 years old over a decade ago, that number looks really small, doesn’t it?  The three graduating classes behind us were even closer to 1,000 and the three ahead of us… if all the persons I went to school with registered you’d be looking at just under 3,000 voters right there!

But we aren’t voting.  And I ask the question WHY?

On the eve of Referendum…

…I know that tomorrow I will not vote.  It is not something I yet care to do and have nought of an inclination to explain it to any man.  I understand the value of the vote and that so many died that I might have it.  But they didn’t have a clue as to what my X would mean at the time and so I am forgiven, armed with knowledge my forefathers and foremothers didn’t have (even if only by my own self).

Nevertheless, to honour them and the freedom I have to choose not to vote, I have worked for every election and referendum since I reached majority and returned to home shores.

What I have gained from working in the electoral system…

  1. …a knowledge that, in spite of popular belief, there are servants of the people who really believe in what they do and do it selflessly, evenly, ploddingly, thoroughly, efficiently and well in the Civil Service.  There is pride in our team, in our integrity, and it is an honour to work with this group.  We are banded together from all parts of Cayman society, not all of us publicly employed other than for this team, but we are led by seasoned old vets of the Service.
  2. Nothing brings people together like public service.  There is a spirit of seriousness mixed with jovial Caymanian sense of humour that reminds me of days gone by when I knew nothing other than how to be Caymanian.  Now, a little more worldly and travelled, cultured, careworn and jaded, the reminder warms me as I work with many who will never know anything else.
  3. Civil Servants are expected to know very little about how my private sector world works, and I admittedly know very little about the realities of theirs.  I get a peek into the beaurocratic systems of management and almost socialist-smelling (and definitely socialized) rules like treating everyone the same and talking slowly with long pauses and a fear of the microphone for hours and I realize… this would never do in my office.  BUT I also realize that my swift decision-making and high-handedness would absolutely never do in their world either.  I tip my hat to the other side of the fence and am able to accept that our differences are what make them good at what they do and me good at what I do.
  4. There is a familiarity to the scenes around me- the shirts with the Coat of Arms, the smell of the public school walkways all rust and chewed-up red erasers, the government issue ballpoint pens that we write with, the obvious security presence, the monotone of the speeches in training, the class clown in the back (sometimes me) and the mix of people from all walks of life in this team that take me back to public school.  I left public school with loads of street cred, no less than 4 convicted murderers in my high school class, and loads of petty criminals and knocked up teenage moms along the way.  There is much violence in my memory that dwarfs the days of total normal and the people that were just regular joes that made up the majority.  This reminds me of the more ordinary days… with a bunch of mixed abilities and mixed backgrounds thrown into a room with just a few things in common and a lot to laugh about.  It really wasn’t all bad, my schooldays.  I wouldn’t go back, but I can now appreciate it with this experience like school days without age limits and without violence.
  5. I love when things are done right.  And so, even if I care not to participate in the content, I am happy to be part of the context.  Democracy fascinates me – not in a fanatical way that others find it fit to die for, but in the way a difficult puzzle fascinates a child with special abilities and keeps them in its thrall for hours.  I am under no illusions about its limitations, but I am pleased to be part of it.  And I am honoured to take part alongside a group of people who, for reasons of their own, are just as dedicated to doing it right.

Another time I will tell you of my scariest election moment during which I was sure I had seen a man die.  But for now I must have my rest.  I am just recovering from the latest drowning and have a full Referendum Day tomorrow.  I pray my Homeland stays safe, peaceful, and holds on to her integrity throughout.