For her 9th birthday, Ella received an incredible Inspiration Case. It has every color in various forms to create unlimited possibilities. It’s where the tools meet the paper to draw out anything her imagination can fathom. Language is my inspiration case. I get giddy over the possibilities of punctuation or the playing on of words. It’s the place where form and meaning come together to express profundity.
Should vs. Could: A Tale to two Modals
A few weeks ago, as my husband Steve and I sauntered down the wedding reception buffet line I surveyed the dinner potentials. Should I get the Caesar or Raspberry Spinach salad? Should I try the chicken or beef? I ultimately chose chicken and spinach and sat down at table 18. As Steve joined me, he commented that I should have tried the beef, and shared a tasty bite with me. The great thing about being in a buffet line is that nothing had to be either/or. Both/and was also possible. I could have both the beef and the chicken if I wanted to. I could go back for more salad.
Should and could. Both are auxiliary verbs. Phonetically, they are different by one minimal sound—the /sh/ vs. the /k/. Both are useful tools in just the right context. Everyone needs the color of mud in their Inspiration Case, but indigo is so much more fun to use. Should gets a lot more use in my inner dialogue and feels like a slow drain of phantom energy. Could on the other hand invites the possibility of joy and adventure. Should is a modal verb of doing the correct thing. Could is a modal expressing possibility or potential. Should and could function similarly in a sentence, but their use in the buffet line takes me down such different paths.
The Game of Possibility
Last week a job offer that I wasn’t even looking for fell into my lap. I came home in a panic trying to figure out the right thing to do. Should I say yes? Should I turn it down? After my beef vs. chicken experiment, I decided to change my inner line of questioning—the game of possibility. I could take this job. Then again, I could say no. Possibility and potential. I was freeing myself up to be inspired by the prospect of a new path, but not tied down to the obligation of what lay before me.
I love how my longtime, kindred spirit friend Kate sums it up in her blog post, Don’t should on me!: We all know the suffocating weight of living under “should”. Whether in eating or exercise, friendship or family, “should” robs us of joy and marches us forward with a dutiful sense of obligation…“Could” opens up our imagination and stirs up excitement about things to come.
She goes on to warn us, though, not to let an obligatory should insidiously sneak into our inspiration…it’s important not to “should” ourselves into positive thinking. Even reading this, we could conclude, “From now on I will say “could” instead of “should”. That would be nice, but I’m afraid it’s just a set up for another “should”. Instead, we can gain awareness about how our thoughts are coming to us. There are obligations in life. Having a sense of duty is not always bad, but we can still frame it in the excitement of “could” rather than the drudgery of “should”.
Sometimes Ella does use her inspiration case for required homework purposes, but having the right set of tools even for the obligatory stuff makes it more inspiring. Even then, she could choose the color of mud, but she could also choose the color of chocolate, or both/and. The possibilities are endless!