understanding expectations

the other day someone said that i was a picky eater. this was after telling them that i can’t have any dairy products in the morning – it gives me bad cramps. i was hurt that i was called picky and defended myself by saying that it wasn’t that i was rejecting their food, or having a sense of entitlement or something … and then it occurred to me: what’s wrong with feeling entitled to eat in a healthy way? what’s wrong with that kind of expectation?

some people say that expectations are premeditated resentments. as in – i expect you to do X, and if you don’t, bang, i’ll hit you over the head with a resentment. and i think to some degree that’s right, especially if the expectation is not clearly stated.

the word expectation comes from the latin expectare, which means to wait. does that help in trying to understand this concept? what am i waiting for? how long will i wait? what will i do if what i’m waiting for doesn’t happen?

laws are expectations in a sense, aren’t they? you expect me to stop at a red light. you expect me to not leave burning cigarette butts in a dry forest. you expect me to help at an accident. these expectations are so strong, they turn into assumptions. because you assume that i will stop at a red light, you pass through a green light. if we didn’t have these expectations of each other, we couldn’t function as families, communities and societies.

the trick is to figure out which expectations are reasonable and life-affirming and which ones aren’t. one way to see the difference may be whether they’re unspoken or not. laws work so (relatively) well because they are very explicit, very loudly and precisely spoken. one thing that happens when we speak anything out loud, or write things down (as we do with laws) is that it gives us an opportunity to reflect on what it sounds and looks like “out there”, as opposed to just inside our heads.

let’s use an example. if i expect my daughter to clean up her mess in the living room without telling her i can wait until the cows come home. then the cows come home and her sticky cup full of old marshmallow hot chocolate still sits on the floor in front of the TV. then i sigh, pick it up, and swear under my breath about that irresponsible brat. if that happens a few times, i build up resentments. resentments are nasty because they hurt both the person who holds them and the person against whom they’re held.

the reality is, sometimes i tell her – and she still doesn’t do it. do i then still build up resentments? i know that when i’m clear within myself that my expectations are reasonable and life-affirming (which in this case i think they are) i may just be able to be strong enough to assert them. and assert them over and over again. and eventually achieve what’s reasonable and life affirming. i just do my part of asserting my expectations, and because i know i’ve done the best i can, i don’t have to build up resentments.

is it possible to have expecations without resentments, then? maybe that’s difficult. but if we reflect on our expectations and make sure that they are reasonable and life-affirming, and if we state our expectations clearly and calmly, we can drastically reduce the resentments.

(this, by the way, is the stuff of revolutions. remember martin luther king jr.? he had expectations, they were reasonable and life-affirming, and he had to do a lot of asserting. and it paid off.)

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

7 thoughts on “understanding expectations

  1. Aaron

    My experience as a vegetarian confirms your comment that having healthy preferences has nothing to do with being picky. Now if I was vegan–sorry folks but I am not willing to give up cheese omelettes or honey on my toast–maybe they’d have an argument. On the other hand, we live in a society where we can actually make these kinds of choices for ourselves and that food isn’t simply a matter of survival. So… where does the silver spoon end? On a low income I have managed to make healthy, and very tasty food choices for myself for all of my adult life, but also because of my experiences of poverty, I have at times had to think of eating in terms of personal survival. But even then I have been able to choose not to eat at Macdonald’s, or to buy plenty of fresh fruit or whatever (yes, even when I was on welfare, and even when i had no income at all). I was able to do this because I live in a society of such excessive (dare I say obscene) abundance, but I think also because of the protection and provision of God, and simply because I had already decided that my food choices are going to be healthy ones and also consistent with my values. Bon apetit.

  2. isabella mori

    thanks for your comment, aaron.

    so … let me understand this … even under difficult circumstances, you have been able to keep up at least some of your expectations regarding food.

    and – part of the reason for this is because everyone else has ridiculous expectations, which may be the sources of the excessive, obscene abundance.

  3. Aaron

    Yeah. It brings to mind a chat I had with a colleague this morning of how these kinds of ridiculous expectations have led us to confuse luxuries for necessities, i.e., having to have that cup of coffee every morning and not just any old bean but the finest Aribica dark French organic (this happens to be one of my food “sins”, but hey my beans are also fair-trade, organic, and of course bird-friendly.) Chocolate is another one. I am trying to persuade myself that if I shell out a little more and purchase only fair-trade chocolate I can also persuade myself to eat it less often and enjoy it for what it really is…a luxury, and at least one that ensures that the people who pick the cocoa pods in Africa or wherever are going to be fairly paid and not otherwise mistreated for their efforts.
    Blood oranges is another one. I only heard of them ten years ago and when I discovered them for sale at Norman’s Market on Commercial Drive on a bleak February morning I was just overjoyed and overcome with bliss. However, because blood oranges are seasonal, and generally more expensive than other oranges I treat them as a gift and a luxury (albeit a daily one) until the season runs out sometime in April. And let’s not think of the toxic carbon emissions that have fouled the air and further warmed the earth from the delivery trucks that have transported these beautiful red oranges from California. And to think that even for our not so distant ancestors an apple ripe off the tree or a bowl of figs was considered a treat!

  4. Aaron

    And speaking of expectations, I’m reminded of some rather irritating ’60’s chatter I’ve ofen heard about not making expectations of others. However, you are absolutely right when you say that there are reasonable expectations without which society, nor even any workable human relationship can be expected to function. Now, are my expectations “reasonable”? This is something that I think should always be up for review. I wouldn’t expect less. Okay, i’ll be quiet now.

  5. zubeldia zubelida

    hi there.

    I left a long messages yesterday on the therapist/research post, but alas it was eaten up….

    I struggled with expectations.. for me, it’s almost easier not to have any. That’s not to say that I don’t expect things from my husband, and we deal with them, I think, in a way that does not least to resentment… But I think it depends on what expectations you’re talking about.. How does one define ‘reasonable’? Should your parents provide you with basic care and not neglect you? it seems reasonable to want this, but if it’s not coming your way and never did, then what do you do? I don’t feel resentment toward my parents for this – not in the least – but the cost to me is quite high, I am coming to realise – as I have essentially made reasonable necessities into disposable wants so that I suffocate any expectation that might form… it seems easier, somehow, than continually dealing with the disappointment of care not coming…

    PS – I am vegan, Aaron!

    zubeldia zubelida’s last blog post..a non-entity cannot long for things

  6. isabella mori

    zubeldia, thanks for your comment, and i’m sorry your last post got eaten up!

    very interesting point here:

    “How does one define ‘reasonable’? Should your parents provide you with basic care and not neglect you? it seems reasonable to want this, but if it’s not coming your way and never did, then what do you do? I don’t feel resentment toward my parents for this – not in the least – but the cost to me is quite high”

    it shows how, especially in childhood, expectations and self-worth are intertwined. it also shows how easy, almost inescapable, it is to conclude that there are only two ways of dealing with unmet expectations: resentment and self-effacement.

    this is so interesting, i think i’ll turn it into a new post. stay tuned, and thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Dano MacNamarrah

    I may be wrong, but I think the issue lies in the inference of the word “picky”. It smacks of finicky, relentless high standards, fuss and almost a sort of elitism.

    If the word were maybe changed to “mindful” or “careful” , I doubt that statement would carry such an impact.

    Cricket and I went out with some one last night for my birthday. It was already loaded with passive-aggressive crap I wrote about on my site.

    But at the end of the meal, “Junior” was asking Cricket to finish one of the two bowls of Vietnamese rice-pudding. In fact, after about three times, he was begging!

    She finally shut him down after the fifth “NO”. The fact is that there are far too many people spending too much time on what others do, think, believe, etc. and not taking care of their own side of the street.

    To this day people voice complaints to me, if I’ve missed a social event, even though they know I have huge mental health issues. If it were a simple, “We missed you” it wouldn’t be bad. But there is always more.

    I would suggest staying away from this thoughtless person in the mornings! Oh, and I have not been commenting on your blog so much, because I moved you to the mental health professional widget, which I don’t check as often.

    I’m working on it, and am off to look at the quiz.

    Dano MacNamarrah’s last blog post..The Dog, The Cat And The Rat Show Us Hope.

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