Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Shoulds and Prejudices

I wish to make the assertion that everyone has prejudices. There are specific prejudices we think we don't have, and it can be tested....

....but there are others we don't even think about at all. It sometimes takes some courage to admit we do harbour prejudices, because the whole idea of having prejudice at all has, generally, become socially unacceptable.

First I want to examine what the word prejudice actually means, as it is sometimes used inaccurately. The dictionary definition is:


  [prej-uh-dis]  Show IPA noun, verb, prej·u·diced, prej·u·dic·ing.
an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.
any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.
unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile natureregarding a racial,religious, or national group.

To put it more simply, it is making a choice based on old feelings. Those feelings can be very real, and sometimes have to be consciously pushed aside.

I freely admit my prejudices, and I know other aware people have too. Once you do that you can work on them. It's not easy, which is why sometimes people don't bother to try to shake them off. It's easier to carry on as you are, or to try to justify it.

There's a more subtle form of it which I believe often gets overlooked. Some of us have taken to calling it "shoulding". This is where unsolicited advice is given.

"You should get a haircut".
"You should get a better job."
"You should lose 10lbs."

Or it can be in the negative form:

"You shouldn't buy lottery tickets."
"You shouldn't watch so much violence on TV."
"You shouldn't wear that."

Sometimes the should is hidden, but the meaning is identical:

"You need to get out more."
"You deserve a treat, splash out!"
"You owe it to yourself to dump him."

The person giving the advice can be quite sincere. They are offering their wisdom as they see it. The problem is, they are not the person being shoulded. They therefore do not have all the facts. But most importantly, they are giving the advice based on their own prejudices. They tend to deny this, if challenged.

So, this is common, normal, everyday, and well-intentioned.

I made a conscious choice, many years ago, to try to avoid this as much as possible. As it is such a natural form of conversation, it's really hard to avoid saying the word "should" and I think we'd drive ourselves mad if we tried to do that. But I try to think about how I offer advice, how it's worded, and try to save the shoulding for serious matters, and then, to prove it's important enough, skip the advice and go straight to an order.

Just trying, and probably failing often enough, has made me more aware of how we so easily fall into the trap of thinking we know what's best for others. Sometimes, when we change our words we change the way we think. At the very least it slows us down, it has a "count to ten" effect, which I really value.

I dare you to try this out, just for 24 hours. It doesn't count if you work in a bus route information office or something, obviously:)


  1. Very cool. I only had time to do one but I did forward it on to our Human Resources department. The emphasis within the corporation this year is, diversity.

    1. Handy little thing, isn't it? Not everyone likes it mind you, some get quite irate.....

    2. ??? And the reason for being irate would be?

    3. Yeah, okay. We all come from the goddess and we love each other in perfect love and perfect trust. There are no wars, there are no hate crimes and the sun shines out all our butts.

      Truth is never pretty but darn, if we can learn and grow when faced with it.

  2. Suppose I should get back to work ;) Apparently we don't get paid to surf and comment.

    1. I just got forced into getting Skype instead of MSN, and you are on my contact list there!

    2. I have Skype, don't use it a heck of a lot. You really don't want to expose yourself to me in the morning...scary stuff.

    3. No, no, I only use the text aspect of it, it replaces Messenger. I don't have a camera and won't have one, it's far too intrusive. And video calls? They trap you. Worse than phone calls.