Future-dated Obligations

Nowhere to be

The last year has left us a lot of time to spend with our own thoughts. At the same time we have been surrounded by a relentless algorithmic march of should. Let go of these future-dated social obligations and find some freedom to live now.

The Algorithmic March of Should

Because we carry our mobile devices, we use social media and consume other media, we are constantly told what we should do. Some of this social pressure is advertising. Some social pressure comes from content marketing dressing up advice and suggestions as obligations. Much of the rest is the ongoing argument about contested social norms, expectations and all our other future dated social obligations. Government public service announcements have proliferated. Safety warnings surround us. We live in a relentless should culture. Nobody is ever really cancelled, just told overwhelmingly what they should do, be and believe.

The challenge with should is that it is directive, absolute and can get in the way of decision making today. We become so concerned with what we should do, who we should be, where we should get to and what we should achieve that doing anything at all now can start to feel impossible. It only gets worse when the advice as to what we should is so often confusing, conflicting, unsupported by research or unsuited to our unique time and place.

We experience this most when much of what we are told we should comes from outside of our community, our experience, our wishes and our capabilities. If we are able to engage, understand and negoatiate these social obligations we have a chance to adapt to its exhortations, to understand better and to take it onboard. The canny obligers will tell us that engagement or understanding is also not allowed. We should just obey. Without that engagement, any social obligation is just another voice shouting should.

There is nothing wrong with the many intrinsic social obligations that each of us can choose to live today. Societies function because of our civil society of norms and laws that community members absorb into their lives. It is not a question of unfettered independence, civil society too depends on our willingness to act for others, often with nothing but pain in return. Legal obligations are not in argument here, just a wide range of pressures from social norms to useful advice to other’s often unreasonable expectations.

Future-Dated Obligations

There is a lot that needs to be debated about externally imposed social obligations that stretch into our future. To separate the charlatans and the manipulators from the well-meaning, we need the ability to engage in debate, review and decisions around these obligations. Shutting down engagement won’t convince anyone, improve anything or achieve enduring change. All that happens is the conflict or crisis is kicked further along. Anyone who suggests the topic is undebatable needs to be queried.

Before you take on a raft of future-dated obligations from others, make sure you understand your own needs, wants and desires. Be prepared to engage, to test its applicability and ultimately reject where ill-suited. Be present in your own life and choose what comes in based on your understanding and own expectations. Be gentle and forgiving where you fall short of your own standards and generous when you or others fall short of those social obligations that the others impose.

All those people shouting should want something from you, usually it is only your attention or your wallet. Before you do today and decide what your tomorrow holds, give them your engagement.

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