Topics, themes, and fodder for conversation tend to linger with me. Perhaps it is because I have a natural tendency to over-analyze and look for deeper meaning even where none exists. Perhaps it’s because I am so hard-headed. When I am contemplating an idea, I just can’t shake it. I’m transfixed. That’s why I am up at 2 am writing and eating a bowl of Lucky Charms. They ARE magically delicious.
Recently, I have found myself immersed in conversations about expectations and so that is the topic I’m stuck on. What do we expect from other people? From family? From friends? In times of crisis? In the good times, too? How do we adjust our expectations and tailor them to the individual or the situation? Does having expectations help or hurt a person or a cause?
Some of these conversations stem from my own sandwichy life, and others really pertain to the experiences of various friends. And let me just say, thank God for my friends—you all minister to my soul in ways you would not believe!
One very wise friend, someone I have known for all of my adult-life, said that when people disappoint her, she lowers her expectations of them and that is what enables her to forgive them more readily.
Another equally wise friend whom I’ve only known for a short time shared an idiom from Alcoholics Anonymous: “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”
I believe those are both very valid points of view. If you have found a clearer, easier path to forgiveness, by all means, please take it. If you have found the way to stave off resentment, do it now! But I’m not certain that lowering expectations or relinquishing them all together is always the answer. I’ve found that there are cases in which people live up or down to the expectations of others.
Years ago, I did a little social experiment. I had a co-worker who was extremely grouchy. She found fault with everyone and everything and considered her discontent evidence of her exceptionally high standards. If she had won the lottery, she’d have complained about the taxes. Fortunately, she was very part-time and only worked two days per month. Unfortunately, she was so negative that other part-time staff would call in sick rather than work with her.
So, one day, very out-of-the blue, I told her a lie. (Okay, this is my second consecutive blog entry about lying. What does that say about me?) I told her, “I always enjoy working with you because you are so pleasant. You manage to put a positive spin on everything.” After that, she was extremely pleasant–to me. She believed I had a high opinion of her and so she lived up to that expectation.
At the same job, I had to greet people, check their tickets, and direct them to the place where their tour would begin. Most people were really friendly and relaxed and happy–because they were on vacation. Every now and then, however, someone would come in complaining about the heat or the parking or whatever, and as I checked them in, I would ask, “So, where are you from?” And wherever they said, I would reply that the nicest people in the world are from there. So, “Ohio.” “The nicest people in the world are all from Ohio.” And whatever they were griping about would disappear and suddenly, they would be on their best behavior. They didn’t want to ruin the spotless reputation of their entire state, country, or hometown.
So, those are a couple of examples of setting the bar high and then watching people change their behavior in order to live up to high expectations. It’s my favorite form of manipulation, but it only works if you can catch someone at the very beginning of a relationship, and so it’s not something that readily works with family members. If you haven’t voiced any expectations in the past 20, 30, or 40 years, you can’t really tell someone you’ve known all your life, “Starting NOW, I am expecting great things from you!” and anticipate change. When dealing with parents or siblings or sundry other adult relatives, it may really be best to lower your expectations or as Alcoholic Anonymous suggest, delete them altogether. Really, if your goal is to avoid disappointment and resentment, this may be the easiest route to take.
But what about children? I think parents should expect great things from their children, verbalize these expectations in a positive way, and encourage the kids to do better and be better. I also think parents should anticipate a certain amount of disappointment and forgive freely.
Really, isn’t that what God does with us? I feel that as a Christ-follower, God has great expectations for me as to how I am to treat other people. God encourages me and instructs me in meeting those expectations through Bible study and my interactions with others. No doubt my words, thoughts, and actions are a big disappointment to God from time to time, but that’s okay. I’m forgiven. I can disappoint God a gazillion times and always be forgiven.
And in the end, I guess that is the key—whether you choose to lower or relinquish expectations or not—brace yourself for occasional disappointment ‘cuz we are all just human and forgive a lot.