Are “should” and “must” the most violent words of our language? When compulsion squashes genius, let’s learn to pull back and let the genius arise…..

Exponent of non-violent communication, Marshall Rosenberg, contends that words like “should" and “must” are inherently violent. The reason is easy to understand. Such words express an act of compulsion (either of one entity over another or even of one entity over itself) rather than allowing a sense of the “genius” – the unique gift – to emerge within the entity being compelled.

I was thinking about this recently when contemplating a book entitled Everything Must Change. It’s a book about prevailing systems of community, organisation and governance and the unsustainable nature of the prevailing systems. It ponders a new world order which it suspects is possible. I very much appreciate the book and its author. My wondering, though, is whether the title Everything Must Change undermines what the book is trying to do. Although I feel certain it is unintended, the title refers to an old-system method (“must” – compulsion) to achieve new-world-order ends (“will” – genius).

Thinking about this I began to ponder the alternative title – yes Everything Will Change. The point is that sustainable change will not come about because I have “seen the light” and try to compel people to come on board with my revelation. But there may be sustainable change if we can help each other read the signs of inevitability – signs of turbulence, resistence, reaction, tension and such other symptoms which suggest a change trying to come about – which suggest something that “will” happen. In faith jargon it’s called “reading where the spirit is blowing.”

Looking at the world around me I continually see signs of the change trying to come about. Here are some simple “structural tensions” I recently observed as evidence of the move from systems of compulsion to systems of genius:

1) I chaired a meeting which was addressed by a very senior Australian political leader. Privately he was compassionate, community focussed, witty and vulnerable..... overall wonderfully genuine. Publicly his every step and sound was measured to create an aura of him holding “the answers” and you could see people looking to him for “the answers.” This meeting provided a stark example for me of this private and public contrast. Yet such a contrast is unsustainable because we look to such leaders to “give us the answers” and know deep within ourselves that we can’t really be compelled towards a single answer provided by a “political personality”. Meanwhile interest in politics, political party membership and senior political office wanes in our society – a sign that society really understands the inconsistency- a sign that things will change! Let’s not wait for the snapping point.

2) In one Australian state a sense of dysfunction has built over many years in a particular area of child welfare. When a particular catastrophe occurs as part of that stream of dysfunction, a senior opposition politician calls for the resignation of the “responsible” government minister. We all expect the opposition politician to play the resignation card as much as we all know that blaming one government minister for the whole system is a futile exercise. Once again our whole system of accountability simplifies things to “a personality with the answers.” Once again we see the number of people directly involved in the political party membership wane. Signs of tension. Everything will change.

3) I attended a gathering where several principals of large schools talked about the weight of expectation on them about risk mitigation. Later in the conversation they talked about the ever-reducing number of candidates for principal positions. Yet again the world shows how uncomfortable it is with “one person who must hold the others and compel others to follow.” Signs of tension. Everything will change.

4) I have occasionally met with young medical doctors talking about the societal expectation that complex life traumas can be resolved with medical solutions. Almost always in such conversations there is mention of the fact that they are deliberately limiting the time they make themselves available for public consultations. Again the “personality with the answers” system wanes.

Signs of tension. Everything will change.


  1. Thanks Adrian, you are brave... ie, creative, dangerous... foolish AND I like you. Well done a a very good, ad-free, stimulating site, I will alert the PCN Northern-ers to it.
    Jeanette A

  2. Thanks Jeanette for the encouragement.