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Wed, March 20

Barnes: Revisiting expectations

I’m a week late expressing gratitude to my father, but we all recall the admonition, “Better late than never.” Frankly, I never invested much faith in that saying, but today it works, so . . . .!

I recall his communicating the “If-you-don’t-expect-much, you-aren’t-going-to-get-much” approach to life.

He made it clear that personal disappointment, along with professional frustration and defeat, would surely plague me if my expectations were weakened by self-doubt and a spiritless attitude.

What he didn’t tell me—and he either wanted me to learn this for myself, or he didn’t know—is that high expectations are the midwife of idealism. Nor did he tell me that this particular approach to life would also lead me to frustration, disappointment and more defeats than I care to remember.

Not that I wouldn’t choose to pursue ideals again. I would! The rewards and joys of viewing the world through idealistic eyes is a trip I wouldn’t have missed. But, despite a fairly healthy understanding of the personal downside dimensions of becoming an idealist, the fateful fact is, despair and even depression are not uncommon results.

It just isn’t possible, in my opinion, to continually maintain high expectations and an idealistic approach to the world amidst the daily—and often staggering—imperfections one encounters. I tend to become overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of horrible daily events and the inhumanities committed by the many against our fellow human beings.

When I permit myself to be swallowed up by this despair for the human race, I sink into a personal pit that benefits no one—especially me.

Fortunately, I have learned various ways of recovering my equilibrium and rebounding upward to regain a perspective that makes me semi-tolerable to friends.

One helpful discovery is a poem by Robert Frost titled, On a Tree Fallen Across the Road:

The tree the tempest with a crash of wood Throws down in front of us is not to bar Our passage to our journey’s end for good But just to ask us who we think we are.

For most of my life I have tried to deal positively with the question, “Who do I think I am?” Sometimes in moments of personal conflict, I add a somewhat angry “Just” to the beginning of the sentence.

But what Frost and other personal sources inevitably lead me to is the conclusion that I am an unrepentant idealist, and I must expect to hit bottom from time to time. “It goes with the territory,” I tell myself.

Then I resolutely reaffirm to hold fast to those high expectations I have gathered through the years.

I know now that I couldn’t really be happy without them.


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