Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Expectations

The greatest distance between any two points would have to be that between expectation and realization.

Though this a personal observation, rooted in my own inability to reconcile those two forces in my life, I feel that this disconnect underlies much of what frustrates people in general these days, whether it is politics, religion or simply familial relations that seems to be the cause.

In my own case, I know that my expectations are often unnecessarily high or out of line with what should be a reasonable outcome, yet I find that setting expectations outside of the realm of limitations is inevitable and a consequence of my particular personality. I attribute it to either unfounded optimism or simple hubris.

In the former case, I count those times when I think I can get a job done in a certain amount of time even though I know it's physically impossible. I am forever deciding to do things, setting aside too little time for too many steps, and then having to adjust my sense of accomplishment downward notch by notch until it finally gets done, a day late and not quite as well I'd hoped. The optimism in the back of my brain tells me that without it, I would just be assuming the worst, and even though I might get things done when and how I expected, the very idea of setting the bar low seems contradictory.

After all, why would I set out to do something that can't be done?

Now when it comes to simple hubris, many are the times when I have simply assumed I had either the wits or strength to pull something off when in truth I knew going in that I had neither. In this case, the wide gap between those expectations and the logical outcomes I knew to be coming are more of a head-in-the-sand sort of approach as opposed to a perfectly willful ignorance of reality, but the result is the same. Shoulda coulda woulda knew better, right?

My observation here is not just about my own inadequacies--both Readers know that would fill a volume or two--but to make the connection to what I see going on around me, particularly in the political realm. Having just gone through one of those endless 'election cycles' I feel particularly beat up and anxious to say something, not because my politics were not affirmed--are they ever?--but because the current appetite for strident and voluble rhetoric seems to have brought a huge load of horse shit to the communal table. The distance between expectations and realization is so great that we can't even see the two in the same field of vision. One or the other is all we see at any given moment.

Expectations dominate. Why for example, can't we simply just turn off the financial crisis? End the war? Plug the leak? What is taking so long? Why can't simply just go back to the 'good old days' when everybody got along? What happened? When did we start destroying our society?

Well, here's the big news, at least as I see it. We aren't destroying our society. Nobody has ever just 'got along'. Financial crises, wars and leaks take time to fix. What has changed, I think is the speed with which we adjust our expectations downwards to contrast with realization. Previously, it might have taken months, or even years to come to the realization that things weren't working out just the way we'd planned. No worry, though, as there was always time for a 'mid-course' correction. No need to steer the ship onto the rocks just to prove that they are there, right?

Just a generation ago, the President said, "Mistakes were made" even as he kept us off the shoals. A few years later, with goals set high for 'winning' a 'War on Terror' and 'finding' WMDs in Iraq or bin Laden in Afganistan, we have set out on a course of unreasonable expectations that have never been rolled back to match realizations. Some wars are un-winnable and some things are un-findable. The result of this gap has been dismal, to say the least, and not just to the left. The right has suffered from this disconnect as well.

It's like looking for the 'cure' to cancer. Is it really our expectation that we will eliminate cancer as we did smallpox? Do we really expect to avoid death altogether, or are we just conning ourselves so we can go to sleep at night?

Ah, easier said than done. While I think I'll be able keep my expectations about politics and religion in check, I am still convinced I can rebuild that rusty little green Karmann Ghia sitting in my driveway.

After all, without a little hubris, nothing would ever get done.

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