Healthy and Unhealthy Use of  Why  —  Should  —  Yes/No


Healthy “Why”

If you are asking for a fact, or scientific explanation, “why” is great. (Why is the lake so low?)
“Why” also works when problem solving a situation (referring to “it,” such as “I wonder why it broke?”).
Test with this question:  Am I asking for inquiry, or inquisition?  The former is healthy, and the latter unhealthy. 

Unhealthy “Why”

The only real response to an inquisition “why?” is “Because . . .”  Because is the beginning of a defensive stance.  The word “because” may not be used, but the sentiment of “because” is.  In answering the “question,” one must reference the past, and seek justification for one’s actions.  People shrink and get angry/defensive/passive when focusing on the dark and past.  They respond positively to moving toward the positive/light/solutions and future.

 If any of the following make sense in the reply, via specific words or their intent, then “why?” is a poor question.
“Because I’m . . . . . . wrong / stupid /      (pause)     mad / bad / sad.”
Try making a little sing-songy phrase of the 5 words, and that answer can identify the intent of the question and possibly lighten the mood.  The more inflamed the situation, the less likely this response is to work.

All “why” questions can be rephrased, usually with better results.  “Help me understand . . .”   “Tell me more about . . . .”  Still, we need to watch out for the intent of “why!”  “What were you thinking?!”  has the same effect as “why?”.  Similarly, “How could you do that?” or “When did that crazy thought enter your mind?” focus on how the person is wrong/stupid/bad, and the speaker is just and right.  Consequently, any response must delve into the past to seek justification or incrimination.



Unhealthy “Should”

Would, Could, Need to, Wish, Ought, Supposed To, Want, Gotta, and Probably often fit here as well.  These words can create a judgment, and rarely are they followed with intention/action.  More often, they are spoken with regret, guilt, obligation, shame, or distain.  If the phrase appears to be pointing a finger at others or yourself, then it is a negative judgment. 

Note that it is impossible to experience anger without the word or sentiment of “should.”  This concept really threw me for a loop, but I have yet to think of an exception.  Anger always involves a “should.”  “They/he/she/I should(n’t) do it this way!”  Let me know if you can think of one – I’m still racking my brain!

Opinions are a special case of “should.”  In politics, debates, or with advice, the sentiment of “should” can be present, even without the word.  Rather than expressing one’s thoughts on a matter reasonably and with curiosity about the other position, the speaker believes the other person “should” take on their point of view.  The closer the position is tied to the ego, the more “should” sentiment is attached to it. 

In group settings, an individual will often offer something to the group using a “should” sentiment.  “Hey, we should think about this some more.”  “We could look at some other options as well.”  “I think we’re supposed to be doing this instead.”  All of these are a form of soft telling.  Make a personal and specific request instead.  “I like the idea of recycling and composting in the dining area; how does everyone else feel about that?”  “I find announcements work better when they are all done together; what does the group think about that approach?”  You will find that “should,” “could,” etc. statements can be glossed over, and often are, but a personal request will certainly be addressed.  Speak with conviction.

Healthy “Should”

Initially, when starting your training, try removing the “should family” from your vocabulary and see how your intentions and actions change.  Make a specific, positive choice of your own free will that includes intentions/plans with traction.

Should has plenty of innocuous uses, and is a valuable word to keep in one’s lexicon.  Using should as a guess at the future, without referencing people, is harmless, but substitute “expect” for should to train your mind initially.  If you can substitute “shall” for should, it is likely a genuine question without judgment or negativity.  “Need” instead of should can be used in instructional situations without judgment or negativity, but otherwise it likely carries a negative judgment.  Rarely, “oops” can be substituted for should without implying judgment, but it is a razor’s line to walk.

“That should (I expect) happen around 3pm.”  “Sam should (I expect him to) be home by then.”
“Should (shall) I pick up some milk at the store?”
“You should (need to) be on page 36 now.”
“Oh!  Ha, ha, I should have (oops) put the oil in before the flour.”


Yes / No

There are three common uses of a yes or no question, with the third being alienating/degrading, and the first two being largely healthy uses.  The intent of the speaker is key, as is how that intent lands/feels.  Generally, more expansive questions, requiring more than a simple yes or no, feel better and are more empowering.

1. Confirmation
“We’re leaving at 3 o’clock, right?”
“Did you say you were going to stop by the store on your way home?”

2. Request
“Would you mind doing the dishes tonight?”         (you know it isn’t telling when you’re open to hearing “no”)
“Do you want something to drink?”     “Would you like tea or coffee?”  (dual choice)

3. Telling (couched as a request / confirmation / rhetorical)
“Didn’t I tell you that was going to happen?”  “Did you think about that before you did it?”
“You know better than that, don’t you?”
“Did you think you were going to get away with that?”
“You’re doing the dishes tonight, right?”
“Come on, you know the answer to that, don’t you?”
“You didn’t go to the bathroom when I told you to, did you?”
“Were you going to clean this up today or tomorrow?”  (dual choice)
“Did you have to say/do it that way?”

BONUS – examples of implied “should” statements

“If you just didn’t do the painting today, you could go on a hike with me.”

You shouldn’t paint today

“You’re going for the mini-Cooper because you like the style and gas mileage, eh?  You know the Prius gets twice the miles per gallon.

You should buy a Prius

“Oh geez, look at that guy with the teepee tattooed on his arm!  He’s a white, yuppie guy with no business trying to invoke native spirituality.”

He shouldn’t have a tattoo of a teepee on his arm

“You don’t want to ________, do you?”  (do that, work there, talk to her, etc.)

You shouldn’t do that

“What?  Oh my god, I can’t believe you said that to me!?”  (wanted me to do x)

You shouldn’t say that to me

“Why would you say such a thing?”

You shouldn’t say that

“You know I want you to . . . (do the dishes, be this way, just do it my way, etc.)

You should be/do . . .

“You’re a ________, huh, really?”  (intent is that you don’t approve / like that)

You shouldn’t be . . .


Taylor Mali – “Totally like whatever, you know?”

In case you hadn’t noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you’re talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you’re saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)’s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren’t, like, questions? You know?

Declarative sentences – so-called
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true
as opposed to other things which were, like, not –
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Like, don’t think I’m uncool just because I’ve noticed this;
this is just like the word on the street, you know?
It’s like what I’ve heard?
I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I’m just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?

What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down

with the rest of the rain forest?
Or do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . . You know?
That we’ve just gotten to the point where it’s just, like . . .

And so actually our disarticulation . . . ness
is just a clever sort of . . . thing
to disguise the fact that we’ve become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!

I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.