Ob-la-di Ob-la-da

I’m trying reallyreally hard to follow the advice I gave myself the other day (while channelling two of my mentors- Cat Stevens and Papa Kaz).

Just sit down and take it slowly.

Breathe.  And let it go.  All of it.

But, somehow, expectations are among the things that we seem to cling to.  Sometimes these expectations can get all mixed up with something that is thrown around as a negative descriptor a lot these days (I used it myself recently)- entitlement.

‘The belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges’ = entitlement

‘The act or state of looking forward or anticipating… a prospect of future good’ = expectation

The differences are subtle:  that which we think we deserve vs. that which we feel it was reasonable to anticipate.

Likewise two terms that are connected with the collapse of expectations:

‘The feeling of dissatisfaction that follows the failure of expectations or hopes to manifest’ = disappointment

‘Dissatisfaction focused primarily on personal choices that contributed to a poor outcome’ = regret

These feelings, as overlapping as they are, come out of the cultural scripts that we studiously follow in an effort to ‘get ahead’.  Modern parents often comment that they want ‘better’ for their children than what they grew up with.  As noted by that maven of truth telling, Bill Moyers, that expectation is less likely to be realized these days.  Especially, at least in the United States, if you are not white.

Interestingly, this particular cultural script is one that is relatively recent.  The culture(s) that produced that Big Book of Myths that has shaped many of our Western mores and ways of approaching the world (and the afterworld, for that matter) were, generally speaking, societies of something called ‘Limited Good’ an anthropological/sociological (please don’t tell the PM of Stephen Harper’s Canada that I’m committing sociology here) concept that suggested that there was a limited amount of the ‘good’ to go around.  If some people suddenly appeared to have ‘more’, the assumption was that someone else must therefore have correspondingly ‘less’.

In biblical times, there was small percentage (about 10%) of the population- the nobility, military, priesthood and a small group of artisans and tradesmen- that was relatively well-off.  Everyone else expected no perceptible change in fortune from generation to generation.

If someone wanted more, that increase in fortunes meant that someone else HAD to have less.  So any improvement of one’s status and increase in possessions was greeted with suspicion.

But it was more than an excess of money or stuff that was viewed as problematic to the larger society.  Having more than one’s fair share of pleasure and happiness was deemed questionable.  This limiting of material and emotional goods in this life also served to make conceptualizations of the afterlife more precious and attractive.

Biblical (and extra-canonical) myths about the afterlife were built on this culturally pervasive theory.  This life may suck- or, at best, be mediocre enough so as to not garner suspicion from one’s neighbours- but the rewards will be plentiful in the next world.  Riches and happiness were to be found in abundance- for those who followed the rules while alive.

The Industrial Revolution shifted the ideology significantly.  Goods were no longer perceived as limited once they could be mass-produced at little cost.  With this change came the development of the middle class and the eventual rise in consumerism.

Goods could be, and were, purchased for reasons of luxury and display by those who could newly afford them.  Spending for the sake of spending, and waste of resources that were previously seen as precious and valuable, became the norm.

‘Conspicuous consumption’ became the new goal in Western cultures, as people were encouraged to keep up with the Joneses and demonstrate perceived superiority through the trappings they were able to display.

Part of this drive lead to the development of the idea that each generation could do better than the previous ones- through the increased availability of educational opportunities and by following the new cultural scripts (arguably based in the concept of the Protestant Work Ethic) that suggested that things like ambition, entrepreneurship and ruthlessness in business were demonstrative of the potential for everyone (dependent on racial background, of course) to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become one with the nouveau riche.

Generations have now been taught that following certain paths will lead to success and security.  Things like education, social connections, hard work, volunteerism and general experience of the world are held up as models for:

‘the favourable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavours; the accomplishment on one’s goals’ = success

When the attempts and endeavours don’t turn out quite the way we’d like, or in line with our expectations (based in our cultural stories that claim such things are not only possible, but probable when we do as we are told) our disappointment can lead to regret– about the paths taken (or not taken)- or to a sense of entitlement based in our beliefs in the myths.

As societal models move increasingly toward ones that share a fair bit in keeping with those of Limited Good (the divide between the veryvery wealthy 1% and the rest of the 99%- including a rapidly shrinking middle class), suspicion- usually justified- about the disparity in wealth distribution grows and leads to societal anomie and/or activism.

We can look to our history and examine these models as a way to help figure out ways in which the disparity can be moderated, if not eradicated (given the fact that Marxism/communism looked good on paper, but hasn’t worked out so well given that little reality of humanity’s propensity to give in to greed and self-serving actions).

Hope and optimism are also learned behaviours derived from our myths and the cultural scripts they create.  At the moment I really have to just calm down and remember that disappointment can be overcome without resorting to unfounded feelings of entitlement OR debilitating regret that doesn’t allow for forward momentum.  We can keep our expectations, a little battered and shopworn though they may be, great whilst weathering the storms of current realities.

After all.

Life goes on.




8 comments on “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da

  1. […] Thursday’s post, complete with Beatles tune at the end, got me thinking about the weekend playlist, so I have decided to get a jump on the Shuffle Daemon and create my own theme for some Saturday tuneage. […]

  2. colemining says:

    Reblogged this on colemining and commented:

    Doing some thinking about managing expectations today, and I remembered this little bit o’ something from a while ago. It touches on a number of the things that have been floating around in my cranium this week as I try to re-focus on some things that need attention.

  3. Doobster418 says:

    Just a curious observation, of course, but I’m wondering why the YouTube video of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, which was part of “The White Album” (at least here in the States) has the lyrics appearing over a rending of the Beatles walking across the street that is a silhouette-like image from “Abbey Road.”

    “The … Big Book of Myths that has shaped many of our Western mores and ways of approaching the world….” I like it.

    • colemining says:

      Lol- couldn’t tell you, Doobster. That was the only video I could find- at the time, anyway- on YouTube. Those Beatles guys (the ones who remain) are pretty proprietary, and their stuff gets taken down quite quickly sometimes.

      Yep. Calling it how I see it- and it’s hard to dispute that call. IMHO.

      Thanks for the visit!

  4. bethbyrnes says:

    My thoughts as I read this go back to an article I recently read by Rabbi Lerner of Tikkun. It is quite an extensive analysis of what is happening to the world as a whole and why the extremist conservatives recaptured the government after their disastrous past performance whenever they have control, in this recent election.

    Lerner based it on research he conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health here in the lower 50 and there are a number of points that bore consideration. But the one that stood out to me and I think the cornerstone of his hypotheses, is that the notion of free markets and capitalism, being fully embraced and even championed, has led to the concept of basic social Darwinism.

    Each man for himself, as the natural order of things even and especially in a so-called modern, civilised society. If that is the prevailing philosophy of a group of people, they will not do anything that might take something away from them (in their own minds, in theory, in this zero sum construct) and give it to anyone else.

    Naomi Klein in her various writings has shown that indeed free market capitalism is the problem. And its zeitgeist infiltrates every institution in our collective lives. Ed Schultz has referred to the ideology as confiscatory. The dysfunction and polarization has less to do with our economic health or malaise and more to do with the idea that we cannot and should not help anyone.

    It is the perpetual law of the jungle. And everyone accepts it as a given, as the only way we can live.

    • colemining says:

      So intriguing, Beth. I’ll have to have a look for the article.

      I think there is a lot of truth in the assertion(s). And it’s certainly interesting that the Big Book o’ Myths- created in a time of Limited Good and therefore pretty much the opposite of what we’ve got going on now- is held up, all-too-often, as the exemplar to help maintain the ideology of ‘every person for themselves’- usually the Older bits that focus on exclusion of the ‘Other’ as a way of maintaining the insular view of the world.

      It’s even more interesting that proponents of the Newer bits of the Book- that feature a main character who was all about inclusion and community- are used overtly and extensively by ‘leaders’ who want to maintain the status quo of looking out for Number(s) One.

      And it’s super-crazy-interesting that there are those among the followers of the Newer bits who seek to institutionalize (in both the religious and secular realms) the ‘law of the jungle’ stuff- and yet are completely and utterly opposed to the Church of Satan (since Satanists are seen as godless Devil worshipers), who have institutionalized the ideology as the foundational tenet of their belief-system.

      The Satanic High Priest actually said this at one point:

      One’s politics are up to each individual member, and most of our members are political pragmatists. They support political candidates and movements whose goals reflect their own practical needs and desires… It is up to each member to apply Satanism and determine what political means will reach his/her ends.

      It’s not about which leader is best for the community, or the country, or the world. It’s about which leader will do the most for the individual at least on paper (the reality is often quite different). Satanists make no bones about the self-serving drive behind their belief system. They’re (refreshingly, IMHO) honest about their selfishness. And they have more in common with a whole lot of people who wouldn’t welcome the comparison. At all.

      Yet, if you presented many of the tenets of the Satanic Bible to extremist conservatives (without telling them the origin of the putative wisdom) I think you’d get a whole lot of agreement on a lot of points. As long as you didn’t include things like the belief that all churches should be heavily taxed- since “The productive, the creative, the resourceful should be subsidized. So long as the useless and incompetent are getting paid, they should be heavily taxed.” That one might not go over so well.

      Thanks for the visit- and the comment. I’ll definitely search out that article! xo

      • bethbyrnes says:

        This selfishness is very akin to Ayn Rand’s twisted philosophy. In this country the libertarians have identified with Rand. But all she was, was a fascist imho.

      • colemining says:

        I agree- about Ayn Rand and about the selfishness. I can’t understand her popularity- although it does seem that most people who claim to embrace her ideology haven’t read it in its entirety.

        It’s all childish, at base. We all need to grow the hell up.

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