High Expectations

Maria_Spelterini_at_Suspension_Bridge.jpgMaria Spelterini crossing Niagra Falls from
the United States side to the Canadian side on July 4, 1876.
©George E. Curtis (1830-1910)
Original image is a stereograph published in 1876.

When we put someone high up on a pedestal there are some unavoidable outcomes that result from that kind of lofty placement. We expect them to perform continuously at the same levels of behaviour that we know and love them for, so when a fall does happen, the result can be devastating.

People rarely live up to high expectations on a continual basis. When a miss-step occurs from so high up, expectations are usually found shattered on the floor in a million pieces. This catastrophic fall makes returning the relationship to its pre-fall glory next to impossible. Most everyone knows the old adage, “If you don’t have expectations, you won’t be disappointed.” This made me wonder, Why then, do we keep having high expectations of people, when we know a fall from such dizzying heights can be so devastating? 

I think most people accept that they can either lower expectations, or alternatively, do away with them completely. Although there is a huge difference between lowering one’s expectations, and not having any expectations, both have a fundamental flaw ingrained deeply within their fabric.  There doesn’t seem to be any room for improvement or encouragement. These ultimately lead to a lack of compassion, and a lack of mentoring, because… what would be the point?

Although disappointment can still be a lingering outcome if lowered expectations are not met, our view of a person can be more on track with reality. However, I am not sure if lowering one’s expectations is the best route to take. Whether we are aware of it or not, when lowered expectations are in play, so is a lower level of respect for the person in question.

One alternative is having no expectations at all. There are those who believe when we have zero expectations, our lives will be free from negative outcomes. But, I am not too sure. Is this realistic? Is it even possible? Just having a preconceived notion of how a person should behave is an expectation. We mostly believe a person’s past behaviour dictates their future behaviour, and when that image changes for the worse, often, we are disappointed.

There is an entire industry trying to convince us that living with no expectations is the secret to living a Zen life. I think this can be a dangerous thing; it certainly is not the panacea that one would hope for. I think this type of thinking can lead to feelings of apathy, and an overall state of not caring or giving up on someone. For some, you risk instilling feelings of unworthiness, and creating a vicious circle of low self-esteem brought on by no expectations, and on and on it goes.

So what can we do to mitigate disenchantment? I would say just knowing that human nature is at play when dealing with expectations would alleviate the level of disappointment felt. Not to say we should expect disappointment, but perhaps hoping for the best, while a small part of you is prepared for the worst, might be the way to go. Doing this would, at the very least, lessen the impact of feelings of disappointment, resentment, and bitterness that usually ensues after a fall of this nature.

However, lowering expectations, or worse, not having any at all, often leads to negative outcomes. There is enough negativity in the world without my contributing to it. I don’t know about you, but that is not how I want to live my life.  Although I personally have experienced disenchantment and the resulting discouragement, I still believe the better alternative is to hope for the best for everyone at all times. Luckily, it has been my experience that most people meet or exceed expectations—and that, my friends, is something to celebrate.

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