Among the utterly invaluable bits of life advice I’ve received from older and wiser heads – no, not recently — several stand out as gems of wisdom that deserve to be immortalized:

  • “Get a shot off fast.
  • “Don’t sit with your back to the door in a public place.”
  • “Don’t go ‘round breakin’ young girls’ hearts.”

     Precipitated by a conversation to which I was uncomfortably privy just yesterday evening, here’s another that eclipses all the rest:

Keep your shoulds to yourself.

     Only in my later years did I come to appreciate how critical that bit of advice really is.

     While this maxim applies with greatest force to “You shoulds,” it’s almost as wise to withhold your “I shoulds.”

     Advising another on what he “should do” is never politic. It poses you as his superior, at least topically and for a moment. No adult likes to be put in the position of a student at someone else’s feet. Remember: American citizens are the best armed in the world. Do you really want to “should” someone who might be packing in a heavier caliber than you are?

     (Children resent it too, even when they need the advice to keep them out of serious trouble. That’s why raising children is a difficult and hazardous undertaking best left to qualified professionals with degrees in Gender Studies. But I digress.)

     Admitting to others that you should (or shouldn’t) do this, that, or the other thing often makes them feel uncomfortable, especially when it’s related to a serious fault. Besides, what responses are you likely to get? “Oh no, not at all” — ? Unlikely to be sincere. “Yes, you should, so why aren’t you?” — ? Who wants to hear that?

     And before you ask, yes: this piece is a perfect example of contradicting one’s own advice. I really “should” consider what I’m about to say before I start stroking these furshluginer keys. As they used to say at Incredibly Big Machines:

Before you louse something up: