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.
Life goes on.