What Should You Do vs. What Would You Do

Psychological vs Ethical

Weinstein informs us that the first part of the question, “What would you do?” is a psychological question. He informs us that psychology explains why we do what we do. The second part of the question, “What should you do?” is an ethical question. He explains that ethics help us to understand whether we have made the right decision.

Let’s take a look at how Weinstein uses this in an example. He comments, “If you are a parent, ask your child what he or she would do if they saw someone cheating on a test. If they’re like most students, they will say – I would keep it to myself.”

He then proposes a simple switch in the way you word the question. He advises that we should ask, “What should you do?” By doing this, he says that you will probably receive a different response from your child, such as: I should talk with the person and probably even tell the teacher. A completely different response by changing one simple word (would to should).

Weinstein explains that this example is one of many examples explaining the difference between how we “actually” behave and how we “ought” to behave.

One simple word changes everything

Weinstein advises us that the next time we ask a friend for help with a problem, we should pay specific attention to the language our friend responds with. For example, he says they will most likely respond with, “What I would do is this…” yet what you are really asking is something more in line with, “What is the right thing to do?”

If we reframe our question or ask them specifically, “What should you do?” or “What is the right thing to do?” you might find that there is more of a desire to tell the truth. He informs us that, by reframing the question your friend will have to appeal to ethical principles in justifying their response. So, make sure to pay attention to how you word your question and how someone responds to a question. A simple change in one word dictates the type of question being asked and the type of response received.

Essentially, the question, “What would you do?” is an appeal to psychology; whereas, “What should you do?” is an appeal to ethics. Simple questions, yet both possess a profound impact.

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