I have always told my kids to strive for fair and not to expect it. There is no doubt in my mind life is made better in the trying. If the majority of us endeavour to fairness more will thrive and in my opinion that’s ultimately in everyone’s best interest. A thriving community supports a good life.
Expectation on the other hand is an invitation to suffering. Life is inherently unfair. From the where, when and to whom we are born, the possessions, privilege or experiences we endure. It is one of the rare indisputable truths of existence. Life is not fair. Therefor expecting fairness leaves us open to constant disappointment, feelings of victimisation and despair. These are not conditions under which we thrive, instead we greatly suffer.
Standards and expectations are the same. Having high standards for ourselves and one another is important. It reflects a value system. A set of beliefs in which we acknowledge self and others as worthy of respect, dignity and compassion. It is our standards that prompt us to act in self protective and altruistic ways. It is our values that propel us forward as individuals, communities, and humans.
I believe when we confuse our values, allowing them to trip over into expectations, dysfunction emerges. Expectation holds others accountable to promises they never made. Rarely accurately communicated, more rarely uniformly understood or accepted, expectations are….well…unfair!
Since at heart most people are good and kind and have generally similar standards for one another our expectations are at times met. Inadvertantly or not these successes lead us to a mistaken belief that our expectations were accurate, well communicated and fair at the outset. We are pleased and feel unified. When expectations are not met we become offended, outraged, defensive. We make faulty assumptions about other peoples values, efforts, standards and motivations. I know this to be a truth. I have caught myself doing this more times than I am proud to admit and have witnessed it continuously in day to day life. It’s a problem.
Expectation leaves no space for emotional diversity, differing perspectives, differing priorities, needs or skills. It assumes our personal way is the only way. In fact – there are so many assumptions made they are almost synonymous with expectation. Expectation is loaded with judgement and superiority, laden with obligation that at best puts too much pressure on ourselves alone, and too often diverts responsibility from self to another. Moreover, expectations often precipitate a fall into behaviour that betrays our values – the self same values we are trying so hard to uphold and enforce. People who value peace and collaboration become argumentative even aggressive. People who value communication become guarded, dismissive or rigid. People who value equity promote one favoured group over another. Conversation halts, conflict erupts. Allies shrink quietly into the background, exclusion continues. When expectation replaces standards we see the balances swing wildly, but correcting nothing. This is not improvement. This is perpetuation of new victims. This is not progress, it is at best stifling and at worst bullying behaviour re-invented.
When expectations take the place of standards growth is inhibited. We become tangled in a divisive mess of egos, arguments and the semantics of language. Genuine good faith and candor is replaced with carefully worded scripts. Exchanges become either poetic and empty or callous and counterproductive. This is not community, this is coexistence and it’s a fragile thing.
As I write these words I am aware that I make myself vulnerable. I brace myself for the possible volley of fire over words I select, while desperately clinging to the hope I can convey my sentiment effectively enough to bypass my literary shortcomings. A sentiment I believe is so important I accept the risk. I would rather speak imperfectly than halt conversations and lose the opportunity to be a part of change. I will risk scrutiny in favour of a higher standard. This is me stepping forward, palms open.
I value all people. Though I know I fall powerfully short in my ability to appreciate all differences and the implications of those differences on our individual and collective experiences, I’m trying. As I believe so many people are trying. I find myself wondering; could it be that progress is laying in wait under layers of carefully selected words? Is it possible that we could achieve a higher standard for one another when we stop trying to convey understanding through our words and instead admit all we do not know, seak true understanding, through our connections and our deeds?
What happens to a society of mostly good people when we continue to make negative assumptions of one another? I believe we have been seeing the answer emerging with greater force for many years. We become anxious, lonely and skeptical.
How do we grow, as humans when we can not have discourse because we are either quickly derailed by conflict or too afraid of offending one another to even try? How do we acknowledge our own failings when we fear damnation, villainization even violence? I don’t know, my fear is we can’t.
On the other hand, what if we stop making negative assumptions? What if we lean into fear, authentically own our failings? What if we make the world a safer place by making conversation safer? Allowing for imperfection. Can we invite equity to arise and unfold rather than demanding and expecting fairness? What if we learn to listen, really listen? Without a need to tell our side, defend or compare hardships but simply witness and honour one another’s experience? Can we stop expecting so much of one another and instead hold ourselves accountable to behavior that matches our standards? What if we busy ourselves with striving for fairness, equity, compassion, dignity, respect. Coming together in celebration of successes achieved, slowly, clumsily, authentically.
Change will never happen in a way that pleases us. It will always feel too fast and threatening to some, to slow and laborious to others. Yet, another inarguable truth, change is inevitable and constant. It is also required. Fighting change is like expecting fair. It beckons suffering. When instead we make space, open ourselves to possibilties and practice patience we thrive.