Monday, June 11, 2012

Or Else What?

Whenever someone makes a suggestion using the format, “You should do X” or “You need to do Y’ or “Everybody should do Z” my unspoken (okay, occasionally spoken) response is, “Or else what?”

Sometimes there is a compelling answer to “Or else what?” “You should put money in  that parking meter or else the city will boot your car.” “You should come to a complete stop at that totally unnecessary stop sign at the cul de sac because there is a police officer who lives near it and the fine is over $100 when he catches you.”

Sometimes the answer to “Or else what?” is a matter of taste. Will I really miss the best time of my life if I don’t go to the movie that I really "should see," or will I think of it as 2 hours of my life that I will never get back? 

Sometimes the answer to “Or else what?” is  “Because it will be good for me if you do.” Of course, that answer will be implied, not stated. I suspect that’s the answer whenever someone says, “You should read this book/column/blogpost” when the object of the book/column/blogpost is to persuade me to believe something that the speaker already believes. 

I’m much more likely to be persuaded by “you should” statements that already contain the answer to “or else what?” If someone says, “You should get out of here quickly because the building is on fire/we just got a bomb threat/there’s a man with a gun”, I’m not going to argue. I may be an annoying smart ass, but I’m an annoying smart ass who would prefer to stay alive. When my rheumatologist’s P.A. said to me , “Girl, your knees are creaking. You need to take glucosamine," I did not contemplate a snappy retort. I don't like it when my knees creak.

Of course, I know I often unthinkingly say, “You should ___” to other people instead of thinking through my advice a little more clearly and stating it a little more persuasively. I try to remember to say things like, “I think you might like this book or movie” or “I’d be interested in your opinion of this column” or “I’d like it if you do X and don’t like it when you do Y.”

But I like to think if someone asked me “Or else what?” I’d say, “You know, that’s a good question.”


  1. Worse than "you should" IMO is "you're supposed to..." Who is doing the supposing, and what are their qualification for doing so?