I don’t remember when it started, but for awhile now, I hear people saying, “I’m going to do what I want, not what I should.” I’ve seen bumper stickers that say, “Don’t should on me.”
I wonder when “should” became a dirty word?
My mother used to recite a poem she learned in her childhood. Sometimes I can still hear her sing-song voice in my mind,
“Straight is the line of Duty
Curved in the line of Beauty
Follow the straight line and you will see
The curved line will always follow thee.”
I love this. It makes life simple. Doing your Duty brings out your inner Beauty because God is love. When we serve God, either directly or through serving other people, we radiate love. And what can be more beautiful?
I think the problem with “should” arises when people lack purpose. Doing something just because you’re supposed to, or “because I said so” can be frustrating. Knowing why you do something, what purpose is serves or how it will benefit another person, makes the activity worthwhile.
As a counselor, I aid people to discover, or uncover, their values. Some people seem to know what makes life meaningful and have strong ideals. Most people have a little difficulty identifying their ideals. They may have goals and things they want to accomplish, but knowing how those accomplishments bring out or develop virtue seems elusive.
How do you establish ideals?
One way is to look for people you admire, either people you actually know (or have known) or public figures. Learning how those people think can aid you to develop some ideas of how you want to think.
Another way for those inclined to do so is to read holy scriptures. Most scriptures delineate virtues, ways of thinking and behaving that bring us closer to God. “Draw close to God and he will draw close to you,” it says in the Bible. (James 4:8)
When we think and act in virtuous ways, “doing what we should” seems simple. We can be ethical, moral, and spiritual, living for the greater good, not just our own selfish desires.
A simple way to practice this is living according to the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This gives us a sense of what we should or shouldn’t do. It seems that the idea of “should” becomes a challenge when people fear that they will lose something and won’t get what they want.
In the Bible, near the end of Jesus’ life, he surrenders to God, saying, “Not my will but Thy will.” This philosophy of surrendering the individual will to Divine Will is, in my opinion, the essence of ethics. Living an ethical life is living with integrity.
Integrity comes from the same root as the word “integer.” Perhaps you remember from mathematics classes that an integer is a whole number. Integrity means whole. To integrate means bringing together that which becomes part of the whole.
So I see ethics as a way of thinking that harmonizes with each one of us being a part of a greater whole. Another way to view this is thinking about being a force for good, doing that which promotes and facilitates growth.
Some people seem to reject the idea of ethics, viewing it at restrictive or “boxy.” I see this occurs when people view ethics as limiting their behavior.
Any codes of ethical conduct, external law, or rules of behavior exist to guide us while in this human form to make choices that align with our Divine Nature. The Universal Laws are perhaps the ultimate guidelines, set into motion at the beginning of creation so we can become compatible with our Creator.
The practice of meditation enables us to still the mind (through concentration) and listen to our Creator, eventually to merge with the Creator. When we can listen and hear the voice of Creation we can have a kind of internal compass to guide our choices. This internal compass can be called conscience or being pure-hearted.
Throughout the ages mystery schools and religions have set forth guidelines for people to develop conscience. Reading and following rules because someone else “says so” can feel restrictive. When one practices meditation and devotes oneself to living in alignment with the Universal Laws, then conscience centers us. The internal click of knowing that one has done the right thing (even when it may not seem “fun” or “easy”) feels fulfilling.
Sometimes when I am faced with a choice of something I “should” do even though I may not want to, I think about how I will feel later when I reflect on it. Using visualization and clairvoyance it becomes easy to see that the right choice in the long run will “feel” right. It will be fulfilling. The choice that might temporarily feel good but which does not benefit the whole will, in the long run, “feel” bad. Some people might describe it as “leaving a bad taste in their mouth.”
Developing that kind of clairvoyance and conscience starts with believing that there is right and wrong. I have heard people say that there is no such thing as right and wrong, it is all for learning. That does not fit with any scripture or wisdom teaching I have ever read. It is true that life is a process of learning, and it is also true that we become responsible for what we know.
So for example, if the sales clerk gives me too much change without realizing it, even though I could get away with walking out with the extra money, it will deteriorate my sense of self worth. I will feel bad or guilty or ashamed because I know that I have stolen. Whether I get caught by someone else is not the issue. Because I know better, I am responsible for giving it back.
This kind of purity in thought enables one to go to bed with a clear mind and pure heart. When we make choices based on understanding we grow in virtue. Growing in virtue enables us to “feel good” in a permanent sense.
I love the idea of being devoted to something greater than myself. Thinking consciously about how I might serve God and aid other people is a good way to do so.