Undoing Shoulds: 

Before Adam, Eve, and the Apple

Returning to the Garden of Eden


What Others are Saying about “Undoing Shoulds”


Table of Contents


(not YET customized for mobile-phone viewing)


After reading the first nine pages, 

you’ll be able to decide whether to continue...

⇒ Full disclosure: I’m still on probation after my almost three decades of ankle-bracelet detention in the House of Good and Bad.


Brief prelude—


Before I tell you about my decades-long incarceration inside the House the Good and Bad, what does it mean to live inside that house?


Living inside the House of Good and Bad (HOGAB, which is pronounced “hoe-gabh”) refers to our habit and addiction to see ourselves, others, and the world through the judgmental glasses of “shoulds.” We see others, as well as ourselves, with these glasses. These judgmental glasses often express themselves in our thinking and speaking:


  • should and shouldn’t, 

  • good and bad, 

  • right and wrong, 

  • selfish and unselfish, 

  • fair and unfair, 

  • just and unjust, 

  • deserving and undeserving, 

  • worthy and unworthy, 

  • normal and weird, and more. 


The limitations of judgmental glasses.


Not only do these glasses severely degrade our ability to make better choices for ourselves and others, they also inflict many costs. These costs run deeper and are more pandemic than most realize. They include:


  • guilt, 

  • shame, 

  • blame, 

  • arrogance, 

  • resentment, 

  • resignation, 

  • defensiveness, 

  • impatience, 

  • poor health, 

  • bad relationships, 

  • shyness, 

  • loneliness, 

  • low self-esteem, 

  • lack of motivation, 

  • depression, 

  • jealousy, 


  • insensitivity, 

  • perfectionism, 

  • over promising, 

  • procrastination, 

  • bossiness, 

  • being disrespectful, 

  • feeling overwhelmed, 

  • feeling unworthy, 

  • feeling not good enough,

  • boredom, 

  • postponing real life into the future, 

  • being a victim, and more….

  • jealousy,

      “I don’t believe there’s two sides to every story. It’s black and white. There’s right and wrong.”

-Joe Wurzelbacher (an American conservative activist, a HOGAB resident, 1973-)


       Keep up the good fight, Joe! Do you think that will make you happy? Are you happy with your relationships with others?


       “What is the American dream? The American dream is one big tent. One big tent. And on that big tent you have four basic promises: equal protection under the law, equal opportunity, equal access, and fair share.” -Jesse Jackson (American civil rights activist, Baptist minister, politician, and another HOGAB occupant, 1941-)


       Jesse, good to know that you are adept at using fuzzy words. You’ll be able to hoodwink more people that way. And, frankly, maybe it’s impossible to be a successful politician without some hoodwinking. I can appreciate your dilemma. 


       “People don’t realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust. People aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for: freedom, liberty and justice for all.” -Colin Kaepernick (American football quarterback and HOGAB regular, 1987-)


       Colin, were you training to be a politician?

       Okay, now to share about my jail time in the HOGAB:

       I gave some bad boys bloody noses.

I was deeply addicted to righteousness, especially as a child, teenager, and into my early 20s. I was the good guy, especially as I compared myself to the bully boys in the countryside school I attended in Flat Rock, South Carolina. At six years old, at someone’s birthday party, I fought with three different bad boys and gave each one a bloody nose. Their mothers were upset with me...but I was right and I knew it. I felt no guilt or remorse for hurting them. I enjoyed the juiciness of my righteous anger.


"There really is no difference between the bully and the victim. I would like to do a psychological autopsy on as many bullies and victims as possible ...how do we understand what breeds hatred, what breeds anger?" -Lady Gaga (American singer, songwriter, and actress, 1986-)


I don’t know enough about Lady Gaga’s fuller thoughts to say whether I would agree with her. However, I am certain about two things regarding the bullying I remembered: 

  • I am certain that my righteousness contributed to others continuing to bully me, and 

  • they felt they were justified in their behavior (they saw themselves as the good guys). Perhaps I was even a bully in few circumstances and just don’t remember it as such.

I turned righteousness against myself.

Not only was I righteous with others, I was also righteous with myself. When I was eleven, one night, alone in my bed, I accidentally rubbed up against the joys of masturbation. Immediately after my first super-amazing orgasm, I remembered the “man-to-man” conversation I’d had with my father six months earlier. In that very serious talk, he warned me that masturbation was bad and good boys didn’t do that. At the time, I didn’t fully know what masturbation was or how great it felt. So I thought to myself, “Well, of course, I won’t do that because I’m a good boy.” After that first time, I solemnly promised myself, “I will never do that again.”


I was persistent in making and breaking my promises.


That promise lasted two days. I jerked off again. And again. It was soooooo good! I felt guilty. I made a new promise. “I must be a good boy!” This two-day cycle of masturbation, self-criticism, and a new promise, continued unabated until the summer of 1964, when I turned 20. My only solace during those nine years was that, by feeling guilty, I was proving to myself that I was a good guy. In my mind, only a bad guy would not feel guilty about masturbating.



“My guiding principle is this: Guilt is never to be doubted.” -Franz Kafka (German-speaking existentialist novelist and short story writer, 1883-1924)


Really, Franz?!


Two books helped me let go of the righteousness against myself.

In the summer of 1964 I was on sabbatical from college, when I stumbled upon two books: Sexuality in the Human Male and Sexuality in the Human Female by Alfred Kinsey. I learned that masturbation was healthy and normal and that all the arguments against it were bogus. From that point, I no longer felt guilty about masturbating. Even though I managed to escape this particular guilt, I was still firmly ensconced inside the HOGAB, ready for guilt to rear its ugly head about something else at any time.


“Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone you love.” -Woody Allen (American director, writer, actor, and comedian, 1935-)


You can always find someone to be on your side as a fellow victim (or victim sympathizer). 

At 19 years old, I discovered Ayn Rand. I latched onto her highly contemptuous attitude towards others whom she dubbed the “second-handers” and the “altruists.” I saw myself as a kindred victim.


Note: I still think Ayn Rand was insightful regarding several fundamental ideas. What was toxic for me was that I aligned with her righteousness towards the many who disagreed with her.


Ayn Rand

No longer under house arrest…


I continued to wear the glasses of good and bad, right and wrong. Only in my mid 20s did I take the first baby steps in becoming aware that I was wearing colored glasses and that what I thought I was seeing was not reality itself. Suspecting that I was wearing colored glasses, I then began to question the validity and helpfulness of those glasses. 


If I had to identify a single turning point where I was set free from house arrest and put on probation, it would have been in 1975, during a weekend Intensive led by Dr. Nathaniel Branden along with 200 other participants in a New York City hotel ballroom. That life-changing process dissolved all the chronic blame I had held towards my father (leaving only compassion). It also began to shift my life context from “life is so hard” to “life is my playground.”


Always on the path…


Today, after years of further exploration, I am far along the path of recovery, even though I still feel the pull of that addiction from time to time (perhaps even fueled by my DNA). I speak to you therefore, not from the place of full recovery (if such exists), but from being clear about my path on this life-long journey of living and playing outside the House of Righteousness.


“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” -Buddha (563 B.C.E.-483 B.C.E.)


“A villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.” -Chris Colfer (American actor, singer, and author, 1990-)


How did 85 prisoners, from ages 18 to 34, jailed for acts of violence and robbery and incarcerated in South East England, rank themselves about their sociability? In an anonymous survey the prisoners ranked themselves as more moral, kinder to others, more self-controlled, more compassionate, more generous, more dependable, more trustworthy, and more honest than the average member of the English population. 


“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” -Rumi (13th-century Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic, 1207-1241)


“Imagine there's no countries, / It isn't hard to do. / Nothing to kill or die for, / And no religion, too. / Imagine all the people / Living life in peace.” -John Lennon (musician, 1940-1980)


My mother incurred a life of suffering by living in the HOGAB.

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