2013-01-25

Should You Read This?

It is a funny quirk of human psychology that we can radically change the way a person views a given situation, depending on the way we ask the question. Indeed, sometimes it even depends on whether one perceives that there even is a question in the first place.

Child Eating Lunch
For example, here's a photo that came up in a simple Google Image Search for the string "child eating lunch:"
Photo courtesy www.visualphotos.com
The contents of the lunch itself are positioned in a bad angle to determine exactly what they are. From my vantage point, it appears to be that the child is eating the following for lunch: A sandwich, some orange wedges (perhaps?), a cup of Jell-O, and a glass of juice.

Just look at that photo, and let it sink in for a moment.

Should Children Be Given Juice?
Okay, suppose we change our search string to "should children drink juice at lunch". What do we come up with?

Before we get to the picture, specifically, let's take some time to consider the thoughts that are already forming in your head, without any real prompting. As you read this blog post right now, your mind is already at work, forming perspectives and arguments and takes on the supposed issue of children's drinking juice. Some of you are forming chains of thought centered around sugar content, and perhaps that involves some tangential thoughts about sugar and corn production, subsidies, high fructose corn syrup, food allergies, diabetes, tooth decay... and so on. Some of you may already have thought a phrase close to, "But it's no big deal if kids drink juice sometimes!"

The point is, these thoughts are occurring to you in some form or another. The results of the Google Image Search are reflective of this fact, as well. Here's one example that came up:
Photo courtesy www.carolinejinghory.com

Magic!
For decades, we have seen pictures of children drinking a glass of juice at lunch, and most of us haven't given it a second thought. The fact of the matter is that children drink juice. So, when you see a child drinking juice, or a picture of a child drinking juice, it makes about as much impact on you as the fact that you saw the hood of your car while driving into work today.

But if I ask a question with the word "should" in it, then suddenly things change, and drastically.

It's not just a matter of juice, either. You can take a completely, pathetically, boringly descriptive statement like, "The office floor is carpeted," tack the word "should" in front of it, change the verb tense accordingly, and you'll end up with something that is basically political.

Should the office floor be carpeted? Suddenly the environmentalists chime in. The interior designers. The ergonomics experts. The employee's union. The contractors. The accountants.

It's just juice. It's just carpet. There is nothing about either of these concepts that demands the solicitation of public opinion. They are as innocuous as sand on a beach or feathers on a bird. They have no special power in and of themselves. They do not require special CNN coverage or an intimate Piers Morgan interview.

But do you know what does have special power? Do you know what does require special coverage on CNN? The word should, that's what.

Ten Thousand Years Of Human History, And We're Still Just Bald Monkeys
Of course, the political pundits have known this for eons. There is some wonderful magic in the word "should." "Should" takes boring things and makes them interesting. "Should" makes a person's thoughts about even office carpeting matter! "Should" pits brother against brother.

In the face of "should," we just can't help ourselves. We fall over ourselves to supply our take on what should be, no matter how pointless the issue actually is. Worse than that, when confronted by the word should, we will make a pointless issue a matter of national importance. Something that we never would have given a second thought becomes an excuse to post slogans and "info-graphics" on our Facebook page.

Oh, the power of the word should! He who controls the word should controls the world!

Conclusion
The next time you hear someone ask a "should" question, I would like to challenge you to first ask yourself if you would ever have given the matter a second thought had the question never been asked. If the answer is no, you would probably be better off not venturing your opinion.