Travelling the Alphabet — E is for Expectations
‘Whatever expectations you have of me, be assured you will be disappointed.’
‘Whatever your judgements of me, be assured they are probably mistaken.’
An expectation is a judgement in advance, a pre judgement,
‘I expect this of you and if you do not meet my expectations then you have let me down’.
The potential for that to be the story is too great to risk with expectations because they are immediately impact with the burden of ‘fear of judgement’. ‘What will you do if I don’t live up to your expectations?’
It is all about the observer and has little or nothing to do with the person being expected of, ‘the observed’.
My response to this is ‘find out who I am first before you start placing these huge burdens on my shoulders which I may or may not be able to meet but are nothing to do with me’.
When I first met my wonderful David, this was one of the first things we said to each other, ‘no expectations no agendas, let us find out who we each are’.
Twenty years on, at the point of writing, we are still enjoying finding out who we each are and enjoying how much that changes over time. We come to each other heart, and eyes wide open, and mind willing to notice who we each are today, and not to stay resting in a place of non-seeing expectation and routine. Nothing about our life is truly routine although some of these exist for the sake of convenience and team work.
In fact I am still finding out who David is because he is still growing: creatively, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually. He is actually very interesting to live with because I still keep my mind open to whom he is becoming in each moment. He meets my needs, emotionally etc. because he also allows me to grow and develop and become who I am also. We are each other’s voyage of discovery, chums in that adventure, supports when the going gets tougher, mirrors for self-reflection when we need to re-evaluate. None of this is possible with expectations. They cloud up that mirror and prevent us seeing each other as we truly are.
That first statement is one I would like to have printed on a t-shirt, to be worn at all times when in any public situation. I have only ever experienced expectations as a burden which swamped me with their weight rather than allowing me to rise and show who I really am or what I can express of myself.
Expectations are often seen as positive attitudes to hold which ‘encourage others to shine’. It does the opposite. Your expectations of me are your expectations, they may have nothing to do with what I can offer you. They are projections and thus potentially harmful, closing people down and placing pressure on them to meet your demands, needs and expectations. Many relationships have failed on the back of expectations and unspoken demands which is what an expectation really is. The energy taken up in coping with this means they are thus depleted. If you expect less from someone they will likely expect less from themselves too but they may just surprise you if you can see it, although the chances are that you lesser expectations will be all that you see. But if you expect too much then you place that burden of anticipated failure in its place. The option to just be open to who someone is and to let them show you what they are capable of is the central point of balance and thus the right place to stand in your relation to others. This has been shown in schools where children who are deemed not worth much fail to even achieve their limited potential because it was not valued enough and not expected of them but children who are placed under too much pressure to perform can burn out and peak too young and end up failing to get to the next level of expected achievement. I have seen both in my years teaching and realise the damage done by both.
EXPECTATIONS MEET OTHERS PEOPLES NEEDS — not the needs of the individual to evolve into their full potential
In a way this is also covered by Should but with a different approach.
Judgements are what occurs when the expectations are not met and the disappointment sets in, or they over elevate the importance of someone and pedestals them so that they can never feel allowed to be human and fallible without that fall feeling like failure. They act like a form of gradual disillusionment and withdrawal — ‘you are not what I thought you were’, ‘ you’re not who I want to be with’. How do you know that? You haven’t even bothered to look. All you saw was your own self projected onto the other through your expectations, hopes, desperate needs in some cases.
I have been guilty of this and I have been on the receiving end too. Neither place is positive, or happy, or leads to lasting and fulfilling relationships. Recognising how damaging expectations are of any direction, i.e. higher or lower, is crucial to starting to reach that point of balance and openness that all people deserve.
When I meet someone who challenges me with their behaviour I find it helpful to seek out someone else who has a similar experience with that individual, and to share that until I can understand it and accept it and embrace it. The next time I see that person I am usually feeling very warm towards them because the understanding that the shared non-judgemental discussion has given me has enabled me to step back from the judgement that wants to stand between us. Reducing expectations to zero allows you to feel more comfortable with other people as well as for them to feel more comfortable with you. I have to pick my confidantes well though, as it can easily be seen as a slagging match, which it most certainly isn’t because the motivation is to understand, not to judge or criticise.
Sometimes being very literal has its advantages and sometimes it has its disadvantages. Gradually though one collects a group of travelling companions who can understand that process with you, who have shared paradigms of understanding rather than slating, and with whom you can explore these relational complexities, without doing any harm to self or others.
So don’t lower your expectations remove them completely and instead be open to what people bring with them. It brings to mind the, by now very well known, Rumi Poem the Guest House
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Expectations and judgements only make you unhappy or dissatisfied with life, so do yourself a favour and let them go, move to openness and see what happens.