Since writing the last post on radical self-unschooling I have been looking at the point of ‘having to’ do things and how I have reacted to that, something that I’ve also previously written about. My partner and I have discussed the words ‘must’ and ‘have to’ over the last few weeks, specifically in looking at how I have had a strong adverse reaction to the word ‘must’. To me, there has been something imprisoning about the word must where, if someone says to me that I ‘must’ do something or that I ‘have to do something’ I immediately have an experience of constriction within myself, as though the words themselves are strangling or binding me.
As we worked with redefining the word ‘must’ I realized that ‘must’ in a practical context means things that are necessary for us to do and if we don’t do them, consequences will most likely play out that we wouldn’t want to happen. You must drink water or you will die. You must look when you cross the street or you risk getting hit by a car. However to me, the word must was associated with being forced to do something, such as my mother telling me “You must go to sleep now”, as well as with expectations being placed on me where I would react in fear of not being able to accomplish that which was expected of me such as a teacher saying “You must perform well on this test.”
This has led to me creating an intense, physical reaction whenever I hear the word ‘must’ or the words ‘have to’. It is interesting because as my partner and I have discussed it and I have imitated him to show him how I react to the word, whenever I say the word must in a sentence it is with great emphasis and force, showing exactly how I hear the word through the filters of the mind that I’ve conditioned the word to. So if my partner for example says “you must/have to come get me” I’d hear it as: “You MUST!!! come get me” lol.
So the instant reaction that comes up within me when hearing the word must/have to is an experience of constriction, feeling forced and feeling pressured and fearful/panicking. This then subsequently triggers a reaction of anger and defiance within me, where, without even looking at whether or not the point expressed is valid or not, I immediately feel resistant towards it – simply because its something I ‘must/have to’ do.
Interestingly enough I don’t always have this reaction, so it depends on the context. If I were to for example say: “I must do the laundry today” or if my partner said: “You must pay that bill today” I wouldn’t necessarily react because I understand that these are simply things that are necessary to do because I wouldn’t want the consequences that followed if I didn’t.
Interestingly enough we can actually look at the reverse process here to also see how words have become obfuscated through the course of human history through investigating the etymology of the word ‘must’.
Old English moste, past tense of motan “have to, be able to,” from Proto-Germanic *mot- “ability, leisure (to do something)” (cognates: Old Saxon motan “to be obliged to, have to,” Old Frisian mota, Middle Low German moten, Dutch moeten, German müssen “to be obliged to,” Gothic gamotan “to have room to, to be able to”), perhaps from PIE root *med- “to measure, to take appropriate measures”
Going back to the root of the word ‘must’ it appears that it originally meant ‘to have room to/to be able to’ which is cool because this takes the point of pressure out of the word from the perspective of how we can only ever do as much as we’re capable of within a given context. Even more interesting, the word might stem from the PIE root ‘med’ which means ‘measure/take appropriate measures’ – which is exactly in alignment with the redefinition we’ve looked at here.
Playing with the sound of the word ‘must’ some even more interesting dimensions opens up:
The two sounds that particularly stands out from playing with the word ’must’ is ’mom-says’ and ’muted-us’. Because as I was investigating why it is I’ve reacted so strongly to the word must, I remember how, as a child adults would tell me what to do and I remember feeling extremely violated, betrayed and powerless when they would use their ‘adult power’ over me in ways that were not reasonable.
So it could for example be my mother telling me to go to sleep specifically so that she could get time alone for herself, but where I wasn’t actually tired.
Due to the power relationship between adults and children, where I was physically smaller and had less vocabulary to express myself, I was left powerless, even if what I was asked/told to do was unreasonable.
I realize that the word ‘must’ has been corrupted within my vocabulary from the sense of being raised by adults who were unclear in their usage of the word. What that meant is that they would use the word ‘must’ to exert power over me as a child out of self-interest, where there was not an actual ‘must’ (in the sense of a common sense necessity) involved. Because of this the word became associated with unreasonable pressure, with feeling forced and enslaved – where the word itself became synonym with my powerlessness as a child. In turn I couldn’t wait to growing up and deciding over my own life, not realizing that I had already accepted and integrated the subjugating mechanisms into me – and that if I was not in the process of intervening and deschooling myself that I am – I would have done the exact same to my own children, and so the cycle would continue indefinitely.
So I see how this has sparked this defiant rebellion within me where I feel like I’m empowering myself if I stand up against anything that someone else tells me that I ‘must’ or ‘have to’ do – whether it is reasonable or not. So based on this, I’ve created a polarized relationship to the word ‘must’ – rather than it being a commonsensical assessment in taking appropriate measures towards a certain point/task.
Something that Bernard said in this context and that resonated with me was that: ” I commit myself to remove from my design anything related to what I have to do and to replace it with doing that which is what is best for all life within the understanding that to do what is best for all life is not a ‘have to do,’ it is common sense.”
So what I am working with here is taking the aspects of morality and force out the words ’have to’ and ’must’ along with my energetic reactions associated with it – so that ’have to’ and ’must’ can simply be practical words describing that a necessity to prevent unwanted consequences – which is common sense.
So in terms of redefining the words must/have to – it becomes about doing that which is best for self and so best for all in common sense within the given context.
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