Monday, April 19, 2010

Great Expectations

Expectations are a funny thing. They have certain power. If you expect more from yourself and others, it is believed that they/we will achieve more. Somehow, we will rise to these expectations even when they are only implied. Maybe that’s true, to a degree anyway.
Consider negative expectations. There is a term in psychology known as self-fulfilling prophecy. It means loosely that when you expect negative behavior from a person or group of people, you can usually find it or cause it. Having said this, our finding of it has very little to do with the group or person’s behavior in general. We find it because that is what we are looking for at the time, so it stands out clearly, whether induced or implied. Also so much of what we believe about people is not reinforced by their actions, rather by our interpretations of what they say or do. Like when you buy a new car; there is a consciousness about that make and model, and suddenly you notice them everywhere! (If I say “mustache” will you see more of them? Or will you put it put of your mind? Lets see how many mustaches you notice in the next month.)
What’s worse, we often fail to notice the strengths of a person when we are so very busily looking for flaws. The man who forgets birthday presents or doesn’t act as romantically as they do in movies or books maybe an excellent provider for his family, he many help his children nightly with their homework, and maybe sensitive enough to call his wife not only when he is late but when he has time at lunch, on his way home, or from the market to see of she needs anything more. All of this could be overlooked if one is focused on anger and resentment from unfulfilled expectations. In this situation, the wife wont notice the bag of diapers and the can of coffee in his hand, only that he is not holding roses.
In relationships we have expectations. However, when the other person doesn’t know about them this can lead to trouble. There are oodles of websites and other lists of topics you should talk about-and agree about -before getting married: career, residence, children, religion and more. This doesn’t mean that there wont be some fine tuning once you get there, but it sure beats finding out the big stuff later. How many times has someone got mad at you because you didn’t meet their expectations-and you didn’t know about them? If you have ever been on the end of the argument that sounds like, “But I didn’t know you wanted me to…” you know what I mean. When the answer is, “You should have known,” it’s even worse, a zero sum game. And that’s not fair.
We should make clear our expectations. Especially if we really do want them met. (I do think there are people who uses argument, disappointment, and victim stance to manipulate and further other goals, i.e. you disappointed me now you owe me, but that’s a whole other article.) I think it was Walter Dire who used to say that the best way to get what you want is to be able to ask for it. And while I’m not a great fan (my friends and I used to call him ‘master of the obvious’ when he did fund raisers for PBS; sorry any Dire fans) he does make a lot of sense here. If you have expectations for someone, then you must be able to clearly articulate what you want and negotiate a change. This is standard: Teachers often write the goals and objectives on the board for their students to make clear what it is they are expected to learn in the course of a class or in a set of lessons. Often we are given written job descriptions at the beginning of a new position, which outline the expectations and duties of that particular situation. Safety rules and rules of behavior are often posted on shop walls. New rules are often highlighted in student handbooks.
Too often expectations change and the results are dissatisfaction. However, it doesn’t help to air these grievances to the public at large, especially at the exclusion of the person or persons, who could actually effect a change. Some expectations are not reasonable or achievable: Once I had a boss ask for a project that wasn’t due for two more weeks. She met me in the ladies room to tell me she wanted it NOW and followed me to my office, directly. She was raving and sure I wouldn’t be finished. She was right. But she was right because she caused it to be that way. If she came and talked to me I am sure I could have moved up the date for her, but with no notice… Likewise I had a student who was wonderful and talented in many respects.
Unfortunately, he only wrote one sentence per line rather than standard paragraph form. He was autistic and rather than see his growth year after year, and it was substantial, the state only saw this writing problem and he took the MCAS, a state requirement for graduation, year after year.
So have high expectations of yourself and the people around you, but in the interest of fairness to others and living an ethical life be clear and, as importantly, honest and reasonable about your expectations.

1 comment:

  1. I think it is important to look at the positive of what is done instead of to continually kvetch about what isn't done. Of course, in the heat of the moment, the missed birthday feels much more important than the package of diapers the husband brought home. But, if one is to look honestly at oneself, wouldn't it be possible to say that you knew the partner was not a "birthday remembering" kind of person from the get go. Realistic expectations are important. That way, you can avoid continual disappointment.