I don’t know if this happens to you, but once in a while a childhood story comes to mind with wisdom I never considered. Today I read an article related to how we sabotage our or another’s dreams when we use the word “should” instead of “want” as in “I should do…” instead of “I want to do…” It is a subtle difference but one that has an amazingly different results.
The word “should” casts judgment on an action or behavior whereas “want” suggests an openness. I finished reading the article and was left with the encouragement to tell my inner critic to change its words from “should” to “want”.
That’s when I thought about the Dr. Suess story Green Eggs and Ham.. a childhood beginning reader of about 50 unique words written in the famous Dr. Suess rhyming style. If you haven’t read the story or do not recall reading it, a refresher is in order: the main character speaks in the first person and talks to a colleague or friend named “Sam I am”. Sam I am is persistent in encouraging the story-teller to try a new dish he calls “Green Eggs and Ham” and through a series of creative rhymes finally persuades him to try the dish, whereby the story-teller ends up liking it and actually thanking Sam I am.
According to Wikipedia:
Green Eggs and Ham is a best-selling and critically acclaimed book by Dr. Seuss, first published on August 12, 1960. As of 2001, according to Publishers Weekly, it was the fourth-best-selling English-language children’s book (novel) of all time.
The wisdom that struck me today was the persuasive (and ultimately triumphant) technique used by Sam I am: it consisted of asking a series of “Would you, could you…” questions that allowed the narrator to respond in a non-defensive way. By using open-ended “would you, could you…” instead of “you should…”, Sam I am established a mutually respectful dialog.
How often do we unconsciously close off communication using “should” instead of “would” or “could” and inject unwelcome judgment into what we consider encouraging words?
Consider the difference between: “You should try…” and “Would you try” or “Could you try”. At first glance, the differences are subtle, but the differences in response can be remarkable.
The former implies a duty or obligation on the part of the receiver and takes away the freedom of choice – something we may never have intended to do. “Should” implies that there is a right way (and by implication a wrong way) to do things, the right way being whatever the questioner believes. It implies that the listener “should” make a particular choice and does not leave options open. How do YOU feel when someone tells you what to do without saying it directly?
Dr. Suess may or may not have intended to impart this wisdom on children, but may have hoped to suggest it subliminally on his adult readers. Whatever the rationale, I appreciate the wisdom of Green Eggs and Ham.
As far as the Royal We (me, myself and I), we already appreciate that our Inner Critic learned this today and promises to use the word “Would” or “Could” or “I want” more often. Removing the “Should” from its vocabulary is already having positive results.
Thank you, Dr. Suess!
Have a great week,