The Heart of the Matter

I was listening to another episode of the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain this morning and it rekindled something that often comes into my mind when tragic events happen and this the act of forgiveness.  This podcast was extremely interesting because they were talking with a researcher who was studying forgiveness by collecting data and interviewing people in Sierra Leone in the aftermath of their civil war.  It is a unique situation because after they democratically elected a new government people who were on separate sides of a conflict were in the same communities, and even neighbors.  You could be living next to somebody who cut off your hand, raped or killed a family member.  What happened in that country is truly horrific, and no side was necessarily worse than the other. People were allowed to go back to their lives unpunished by the new government (with perhaps the exception of certain leaders).  In the main story that they follow in the podcast the play excerpts of an interview with two men who were friends before the civil war and when one was captured by the rebels he was made to do horrific things. He came across his friend and the rebels wanted him beat his friend, and he would not do it, and so they shot at him injuring him and told them that if he didn’t he would be killed.  Fearing for his life he did as they asked, and then asked him to kill his friend’s father.  He also ended up doing that in fearing for his life.

I am going to stop there before I going into the aftermath.  Right now some of you are judging the friend harshly who killed his friend’s father.  Some of you feel extreme anger towards the adult rebels who would ask a youth to do this and some of you are just lost in sorry for the pain and anguish that both of these boys must have felt.  You are maybe thinking what you would do in the same situation.  You are thinking about it rationally and cooly.  Let me say first that whatever decision you are making right now, may not be the decision you would make in the moment.  And I think the most important thing that you should think about is that you never want to have to face this situation.  Fear, when facing our own depth makes us capable of much more than we think.  Sometimes horrific acts.

Now the question you have to ask yourself is how forgiving do you feel right now?  And if you can forgive, how much should we expect those who were in that particular situation to forgive?  The podcast asks the question, how does one move forward from such atrocities after neighbor has been set against neighbor?

The way Sierra Leone has dealt with this in trying to stitch their society back together is that all over the country they have reconciliation ceremonies in communities where people stand face to face with people who have done harm to them personally or friends or family members.  They confront each without physical violence.  There is confession and ask for forgiveness.  And forgiveness often happens, because those who are willing to take part in the ceremony want to be able to forgive.  When following up on those who had taken part in the ceremony and when forgiveness happened they found those people were more productive in their community.  They made friends easier, they helped others in their community, more participation in politics and ensuring a positive political future and were more conscious of social justice issues.  It all sounds pretty great.  Forgiveness is a powerful part of healing and there is no psychological study that I know of that recommends holding on to anger and exacting revenge.  Many think it will bring peace, but it does not.  But if forgiveness is the better way, why do we have such a hard time doing it?  Already there are a number of you who are thinking that you could not forgive in such situations as described earlier.

It turns out that the downside of these people who participate in these reconciliation ceremonies is that while society at large gains, the individual suffers.  The act of forgiveness requires a great deal of courage because in that confrontation with a person who caused you harm you must also confront your pain.  You must relive the trauma, the memories, and those horrific images.  Individuals report greater depression and other symptoms of PTSD.  The researcher’s recommendation is that the act of forgiveness needs to be followed by individualized mental health treatment.  It makes a lot of sense.  In addition to the obvious reminder about the importance of mental health it revealed to me that ultimately to truly overcome pain that we experience requires a confrontation within ourselves.  As hard as it may be for two people stand face-to-face in these reconciliation ceremonies, it’s even harder to face the pain with in us.  Perhaps this is why people choose not to forgive and seek external solutions so they don’t have to deal with that pain and never find that path to peace.  Anger, addiction, or just disciplined suppression are all hallmarks of those who cannot forgive and this generally leads to more pain for others and cycles of conflict and violence continue.  I say this without judgment, because no matter how rational my thought process is right now, I cannot know how I would react in the face of extreme fear, and extreme pain.  I find it hard to blame others for not being able to forgive, and I don’t blame people for being angry when they experienced trauma and pain.

shaw_trc_moyambaAs I’ve said to others in the past, the most powerful part of the message of Jesus Christ has always been about the power of forgiveness and that if there is something to believe in, it’s redemption.  The good news from the story told in the podcast is that those two men are once again friends.  I am sure there are times when it is not easy.  The one who killed his friend’s father helps the other plant his crops as he was injured during the civil war.  There are no quick solutions I am sure for them but both are clearly on a path to peace and healing and a chance for a new generation to not have to face the horrors they faced.  And maybe that’s the best reason to be courageous and forgive.  Maybe our own wounds will still burst open from time to time and cause us pain, but maybe we can keep that pain out of future generations.  Because when we act outwardly on our pain and harm others the suffering it causes as pain ripples outwards into their loved ones makes your wound everybody’s wound.  And in I’m not saying it’s all easy but as a people we need to get better about supporting paths that lead to peace.  Especially those of us who have been fortunate enough to not have such events happen in our lives. We need to help people confront the pain that tears through their soul and teach them how they can overcome it.  Forgiveness has value in the face of hurt and harm in whatever form it comes in.  We need to give compassion without judgment and replace despair with hope.

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Broken

I know a while back I posted a blog about public defenders and how it inspired me to be more proactive in my community and vowed to do some volunteer work that I had been putting off until the “right moment” in my life and just do it.  So in case you didn’t know I successfully completed the training and wanted to talk a little bit about my experience so far.  I guess there will be two separate parts here, one in regards to the system itself and one specifically about my case (which I can’t get too specific about).

What exactly am I doing?  Well I am a Court Appointed Special Advocate (or CASA).  This is a program that exists in many counties across the nation, and in certain cases of child neglect or abuse the judge assigns a CASA to the case.  My role is to interview the child, parents, foster care, child development specialists, doctors, teachers, etc and then try to compile a report for court hearings that happen every 3 months so that I can make specific recommendations for the child (or children I represent) in court.  I try to make recommendations in the best interest of the child.  This sometimes can be towards reunification with the parents (or parent) or sometimes away from the parents.  The key is to make those recommendations based on as much evidence as follows.

After my first training session one of the volunteers who I had sat next to, when we walked out of the session looked at each other and were thinking the same thing and he said to me before I could say to him “I can’t believe they have volunteers doing this.”  So if it seems unbelievable to you, this is one of the first things I learned:  We really don’t love children as much as we say we do.  The full-time workers of the program say that it’s even hard to get donations for abused and neglected children.  I came in with some pre-conceived notions about Child Protection Services or Child Youth Services taking away children from good parents and getting involved in the private lives of families unceremoniously most of those notions have melted away.  Children services have to act when a report is made, but for the most part I see them dealing with such reports that are unsubstantiated fairly.  That’s not to say that there isn’t mistakes made.  I also learned that it’s a civil service job, and there are no specialized qualifications to do it.  It doesn’t pay particularly well, workers are often overloaded with cases, and many just use it as a stepping stone to a better job, so there is high turnover, meaning that few of the workers are very experienced.  So mistakes are made, and there is some incompetence, but is this their fault or the fault of a system that isn’t treated as important as it should be?  Just like with public defenders, attorneys that are supposed to represent the children in court are also overloaded.  In our county there are 3 lawyers trying to represent 400 children.  It is not possible to do your job well under such circumstances. I’ve learned that despite bad things you hear sometimes about foster families most people who do foster care are phenomenal people and make a big emotional investment into children they may care for, for up to a year and half and will not get to keep them.  I can’t imagine going through that myself.  Many foster families do end up adopting the children for that very reason. I’ve learned that federal child protection laws didn’t happen until the 70’s and that the very first child abuse case was tried under animal protection laws.  The obsession over the rights of the unborn continue in this country while those that are born are overlooked.  I am convinced that if we put our compassion into making sure that every citizen was treated humanely, abortions would drop at an alarming rate.

The case I was assigned is a sad one, although perhaps by far not the worst.  And I guess it goes without saying that any case of child abuse or neglect will be a sad one.  I can’t describe the case in a high enough detail so that it could be recognized so I will simply give vague details which I am sure are not uncommon.  We have one child just over a year old, we have a father with a criminal past addicted to heroin.  We have a mother addicted to heroin who went into early labor while on heroin and had a newborn baby going through withdrawal symptoms for opiates.  A baby who would later die at the age of 8 months due to an accidental death.  We have parents who are not married.  We have parents who do not have their own home, their own phone number.  We have a mother who does not even have a job, and a father who is just trying to make ends meet.  Neither of them have enough money to support themselves let alone children.  There are many who may already be judging these parents, and I do not disagree that there is a reason that their children were taken away from them.  This is not a mistake.  This is not government overreach.  This is making sure a child has a safe environment to grow up in.  Addiction has taken them, and they cannot seem to get out of it.  They have made less and less visits over time with their remaining child, and at the last court hearing didn’t even show up.

abuse-stop-child-abuse-28564872-765-540-2But one of your jobs as a CASA is to gather information about the parents and part of that is a little bit of snooping on their Facebook profile.  When I saw pictures of the mother it was clear she was just a child.  Barely out of high school. She had pictures of her with her children.  There were smiles, and genuine happiness.  Pictures like any family might have and they were beautiful.  In notes taken by Child Youth Services workers there were noted about how the mother sincerely said how much she loved her son.  As a child of an addict myself it reminded me of my situation in a lot of ways, although heroin is a much harsher drug than alcohol, that there are two separate truths to the life of the addict.  As I look at the pictures I see the same love that I have in my pictures with my child.  I know they are filled with it at least at certain moments as much as I am.  But a portion of their life, thoughts, and physical actions are also governed by heroin.  Perhaps a bigger portion now.  And as I look at a picture of someone who is a child herself, and who has a mother who is also a heroin addict I have to admit that I cried and wondered what chance did she have but to follow down the same dark path.  Where does it end?  How do we break the chain?  Even as I have compassion for the innocent child to protect them from a life of having heroin addicted parents, who will have compassion for these parents?  Is there any hope for them?  Will they have their lives turned around?  Just 10 years ago the mother herself might have been a case for the courts if anybody had bothered to report the destructive actions of her mother.  There is an ocean of pain out there, and it feels like trying to tear down a mountain with a small rock hammer.  The only answer it seems is more hammers.  I have no idea how to convince people to pick one up.

There are 6 months left before the case comes to a close, likely too little time for the parents to get their act together enough to keep their remaining child.  There are already other family members willing to adopt and give the child a stable and happy home.  The child is just a few months older than my son.  Sweet with a beautiful laugh and I am glad that his odds for a better life have gone up, but I am certain his struggles are not over.  At some point he will wonder who his parents are.  He will have to wrestle with the idea of why he was abandoned by his parents and whether or not there was just something inherently wrong with him.  I hope that he is young enough now to not let thoughts override who he will grow up to be under his new adoptive parents. I hope he will forgive and know that he is his own man someday and is not destined to continue the cycle.  I hope he will know good love.

The War on the Poor

We have a lot of people living in poverty in this country and through various conversations on Facebook and on blogs you see a lot of arguments against providing a social safety net, raising the minimum wage, and helping them in general that I thought I would compile a list of my least favorite and most fallacious arguments I hear.

  1. I know some people that actually think the government owes them, doesn’t look for a job, and these people are just lazy freeloaders.  Throwing money at them just supports a dependency culture.

Some variant of this argument is often used so let’s dissect it.  Whenever you hear someone say “I know some people…” or “I know this person who…” this argument can already be dismissed based on being anecdotal and not necessarily a representation of how things are.  We all have our own experiences that shape our views, nobody is saying your own experience didn’t happen, only that you may not be understand your experience properly in the context of the bigger picture.  There is no question that some people cheat the system.  But this happens across the board at every level of society, and I would argue that the rich cheat the system by a far higher percentage rate than the poor, the only difference is that the rich can change the laws so what they are doing is legal.  They can afford better lawyers.  More importantly is that we do tend to focus on the negative, and this is what we tend to see.  There are so many poor in our country that even if 2% of the 50 million living in poverty in the U.S. were cheating the welfare system that still 1 million people and FOX news could run 100 stories a day focusing on a different cheater of the system and still not be done in a year, but that doesn’t really give you the reality of the situation.  What if there are a lot of people on welfare who are trying to get a job, or who actually work a job but it doesn’t pay well enough to make ends meet?  What if most people are actually embarrassed that they are on welfare and are trying to get out of it and don’t get very vocal about it.  Do the rest of our time really take the time to talk to all the poor and find out which ones are on welfare and are honestly trying to get out of their situation?  Nope.  And especially if the freeloaders anger us, not surprisingly we are going to take You-Pay-Taxes-So-the-Rich-Dont-Have-tospecial notes on those people and they are going to stick in our memory and support our views about wasted taxpayer money.  I have also yet to find anybody post some actual data on how many of these welfare freeloaders are.  They are always anecdotal.

I would agree that throwing money at the poor is not always the solution that we also need to do better to help people out of it so that they can support themselves, but the conversation always seems to be welfare, or not welfare.  There is a 3rd option and that is to improve welfare.  To say it doesn’t have value is an insult to many people who have depended on it when times were lean.  Not all people on welfare are on welfare for the rest of their lives.

And concerning the subject of wasting taxpayer money if we want to play the “I’m not supporting things I don’t like game” with my taxes, then I would also not like any of my taxpayers to go to foreign wars that I disagree with.  You pull your money out of the freeloader driven welfare system, and I will pull my money out of military spending, and I guarantee I will be much richer at the end of the day.

  1. I have never had to work a minimum wage job in my life. If you can’t live on minimum wage, go find a better job.  Ask for a raise.

Once again we have a point that rests on anecdotal experience.  I find these statements also come from white people.  I’m not saying their racist, but perhaps the people who hired you are, and preferential chose you.  That’s a light argument though, so let’s get a little deeper.

Let’s just look at it by the numbers.  In a capitalist society I think conservative and liberal alike we can say that businesses want to make money.  They will definitely maximize their profits by selling some product for the highest possible price that gives them a large base of customers, and they will try to cut costs on expenses.  People that work for them are part of those expenses.  So we would expect that just like there are always a very small amount of really rich people in the country, there are also going to be a lot of low paying jobs and then less and less jobs that are higher paying.  The more special skills you have, and this could simply being really strong and doing hard manual labor, trade skills, or this could be, being highly educated, you are of course are going to garner a higher wage.  The types of jobs available to the high school graduate are small.  You have a job at $7.25/hr and you want a better one, and of course a lot of people do.  You have to compete, and if that higher paying one doesn’t require a specific skill set then you have even more competition, quite simply not everyone can get it.  So just to say “Find another job” isn’t realistic.  Finally, how easy is it to find that new job when you are working 5 days a week and actually can’t search for jobs which are quite often only open during the times that you work?  How do you take time off from your job, unpaid, to go look for jobs?  How do you think your boss will react when you need to take an afternoon off to go to a job interview?  And if they don’t get the job, they’ve lost money just by taking those hours off.  Money they desperately need.

The immobility of the poor demonstrated by disasters like Katrina
The immobility of the poor demonstrated by disasters like Katrina

More importantly many poor people have other issues to deal with than just finding that better job.  What if that job is another city?  Can they afford to move if they already have no money?  What if by moving they lose the support of family who can help reduce their costs by taking care of their kid(s) while at work?  Even a job in another part of the city may involve a long commute on public transportation which increases the time that they have to leave kids at daycare or a babysitter that increasing their expenses.  Finally, should we really expect other people to move away from friends and family for a better job, a decision many of us are not willing to make either?  Why is it so unreasonable for them to expect the minimum wage to be increased and keep pace with inflation, since it has not?

Well wanting the minimum wage raised, is actually asking for a raise.  Going back to the start of this argument, in a capitalist society why would a company raise the wage of a minimum wage worker if they didn’t have to, if they job had such a low skill they could just replace them with the next applicant?  What if by asking for a raise, the boss actually decided to terminate them or give them worse hours?  When you are barely surviving rocking the boat isn’t always the safest play either.

And raising the minimum wage will help greatly with reducing suffering.  While it’s probably best to raise the minimum wage incrementally, in general the idea that prices on everything would double is wholly untrue, since wages are only a portion of expenses for a business.  While $15/hour might be excessive, no study finds that when the minimum wage is raised to keep pace with inflation that this harms the economy. This article by the Department of Labor does a great job of discussing it and remember that when people actually have money to spend, this is good in a consumer driven economy.  All those people in poverty aren’t buying as much stuff as you think.

  1. People on welfare are buying steak, have smart phones, getting manicures, smoking, buying drugs, etc.

Nothing cheers me up more than a person of privilege who has been fortunate to have the luxuries of this world, whether through marrying someone with a great job, or being born into a middle-class or higher family, complaining about other people wanting those things too.

Let’s ignore the fact that people need a phone, and that smart phones are practically free, and that maybe spending more money on quality nutritious food is maybe a better idea than crappy food which is cheaper and leads to all sorts of health problems.  But let’s look at the psychology of poverty .  When you live paycheck to paycheck barely making ends meet, and have grown up in poverty, your ability to long term plan fades, and yes you tend to not save money depriving yourself of creature comforts, because your life is one in which appears to have no long terms solutions.  So why live for tomorrow, when you can live for today?

Income-InequalityIn my training for my volunteer work we had to try and make a budget based on what a family makes on two minimum wage jobs and it is a daunting task.  And of course there are many families that do try to save, but saving is hard to do when you’re poor.  If you don’t have access to public transport, you have to depend on  car.  And people live in poverty have to buy old cars that nobody else really wants, but they can get a good deal on them.  However, such cars need repairs frequently, and repairs cost.  Now you could say why don’t they get a better car that is more reliable.  Quite simply it costs more and they wouldn’t qualify for the loan.  This leads to, what I call, the “stay-in-poverty-feedback loop”.  What little money poor people often save goes to these types of expenses because they literal can’t afford better quality stuff.  Car repairs are just one example, but people in poverty often have to get home repairs more often, replace things like water heaters, furnaces, or air-conditioners more often, because poorer housing means people are getting used, cheaper, and/or older stuff in their home.  So even if they are able to put away a little money each month it often gets eaten in one fell swoop by these unexpected repairs.  And there are plenty of other big costs, like health care, which they often put off, even if they have insurance to save money on co-pays, but then this compound into a worse cost later, but remember how poverty doesn’t lend itself to long-term planning.  And if you have kids, there are even more emergencies that can come up.

On the topic of buying drugs, well I don’t see a lot of people asking that all employees receiving public money take such drug tests, only poor people.  Some how if poor people are doing drugs, that is more egregious than any other income bracket.  As it turns out though, the amount of drug abuse among those on welfare is staggering low. So low that the cost of testing everybody costs more taxpayer money than letting that small percentage of people have their drugs.  Not to mention that just cutting off their life support doesn’t actually work as a deterrent to doing drugs, just makes them resort to more desperate measures to obtain drugs likely causes more problems.  And throwing these horrible drug users in jail, just gives them a criminal record, making it harder for them to get a good job and get out of poverty.

 4. Why are they having babies if they can’t afford to raise them?

Well there are all sorts of reasons that people have children, and if we ignore the fact that there are many areas of the country that don’t have adequate sex education, women don’t have easy access to birth control, or that a woman might simply get pregnant because a man lied to her, or the birth control failed.  But let’s say that there are these terrible women out there who are having children as some sort of scam to get more free money.  I am sure such women exist.  Nevermind the fact that such women were likely raised by a similar mother, probably has little education and special skills and is certainly not mentally well to be making that decision, should we cut her off from that money?  Is this the way she will become a wonderful mother? Or will she literally be unable to cope, unable to keep up with all her new responsibilities?  More importantly it’s of little good to question whether she should have had children, she does have children.  These children are innocent, they’ve done nothing wrong, and so cutting off the mother also harms the children.  Where is the humanity in this?  If you’re pro-life then this must also be part of your consideration if you care about children.

  5.  Poor people need to be more personally responsible.

I’ve blogged about personal responsibility before, I don’t want to repeat all I’ve said there, but I think we can agree that one’s responsibility for themselves depends on the environment in which they were raised, such as level of education, family, friends, culture, etc.  And as I also stated in that post, when we look around we don’t see a lot of people being personally responsible.  Politicians rarely are.  Rich kids like Ethan Couch certainly don’t show a lot of personal responsibility and so even if you believe that personal responsibility comes down to the absolute free will to choose to be that way, it’s clear that a lack of personal responsibility is not a trait that only applies to the poor.  Should we say that rich people are allowed to lack personal responsibility, but poor people or not?  More importantly why aren’t we asking the question of personal responsibility to those that are extremely wealthy?  Is it personally responsible to have more wealth than you can spend in your lifetime.  Is it personally responsible to have more wealth than is required to meet your basic needs have plenty of luxuries and send your kids off to the best of colleges?  Is it personally responsible for corporations to ship jobs overseas just to make more money, while their fellow citizens now struggle to make ends meet?  Is it personally responsible to make that 5 billion in a year than the 2 billion you might make if you paid your employees a fair wage?  Is it personally responsible to not pay your fair share in taxes by hiding your wealth in off-shore accounts and other tax shelters?  For those who hold personal responsibility as the most important of virtues, can we not apply this attitude consistently across all economic classes?  Why are only the poor held to these standards of personal responsibility?

———————-

I know this is already a little TLDR, so I’ll be brief here.  In a line from the movie the Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey’s character says “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled is that he convinced the world he doesn’t exist.”  Well maybe there is an even greater trick.  Is it possible that those who are driven by greed in the acquisition of wealth and power have instead convinced you that the poor are the demons in our society?  That even though a majority of them work longer hours, take less vacation, receive poorer education, less nutritional options, worse health care, and less social mobility, somehow a good proportion of the wealthy have led you to believe they are the bane of your quality of life?  And so effective is this message that many of the poor are complicit in that oppression and vote into office the same people who have demonized them in society.  If trends continue as they do, with the exception of a small percentage of the population we all sink together so let’s stop making the poor our enemy.

I’m Expecting

Well if you thought the last post was about abortion or birth control, then you’ll think this one is about me being pregnant.  Life is strange. 🙂

In my last post about how we make plans and goals I mentioned that one of the things we have to decide about our goals may have to be how realistic they actually are and this relates to expectations.  Lowering our expectations may make it easier to achieve our goals, but we may not then know how far we could have gone, while having expectations too high may leave one with feelings of disappointment.  Of course, as I also mentioned before, there may be other variables that we cannot predict that might lead one to not meet our goals, but very often we internalize our failures and can chastise ourselves for setting our sights too high.

My thinking about expectations was once again inspired by a podcast I listen to called Invisibilia on NPR.  In one episode titled “How to Become Batman” we hear the story of Daniel Kish who had both of his eyes remove due to a disease at 13 months, but can “see”.  He uses echolocation by making clicking noises.  As a result, he is able to ride his back in traffic, hike, cook, walk around and has an amazing ability to know the distances objects are from him through

his echolocation technique.  In his story he tells us about a kid from elementary school who joined his school from a school for the blind, and unlike Daniel this kid was helpless and had to be led around everywhere.  Daniel had developed his echolocation technique early and was already quite independent at a young age.  Daniel believes that one of the reasons that blind people can’t see is because nobody expects the too.  That if we raised our expectations that many blind children could develop this echolocation technique.  Daniel teaches children whose parents are interested but he says it’s a challenge because as Daniel says it takes a lot of trial and error and can get, well, bloody.  The point is that higher expectations are the best path to reaching higher heights.  Students who have high expectations for their students generally get students who do perform at a higher level, even if they don’t meet those expectations.  If you try to get an A in a class, you will generally do better in that class than any student who comes into the class just hoping they pass.  People often talk about self-fulfilling prophecies and this is a large part is how astrology works and how people come to validate the predictions of psychics is because once an idea is planted we often want it to become true and it does.  Students who say to me “they can’t do science” generally perform poorly.

Having high expectations has its downside however.  Having high expectations as a professor I think are good, but good pedagogy is also guiding the students towards a path that will reach those higher heights.  Without it, students can disengage quickly and not progress at all.  And of course feelings of disappointment, feelings that you did or will not meet the expectations of another can be a source of depression and anxiety.  How many times have we had high expectations in a movie only to be disappointed that it wasn’t all that good, whereas a movie we had low expectations for we are often pleased or pleasantly surprised when the movie is as good or better than we expected?  A good portion of our country feel that there is nothing we can do about criminals and so the best thing we can do is get a gun, in contrast to those who know that the murder rate can be smaller and that there is nothing wrong with having expectations that we as a society can reduce the rate of violent crime.  Given perhaps our propensity to focus on the negative, it is no small wonder that we often learn in life to lower our expectations or even develop apathy or pessimism as a way of avoiding grief, heartache, or anxiety.  Apathy in this case, to me, is an attempt to have no expectations, whereas pessimism is to always expect the negative outcome.  Personally I feel that apathy eventually leaves us to become emotionless, taking all the joy out of life at the expense just so we can avoid grief.  Pessimism, in my opinion, is almost worse because when the expectation is for things to be negative they generally are, and you are unlikely to ever be pleasantly surprise.  In fact many pessimistic people eventually turn into people that can find the bad in every good situation.  So while some can take it to extremes, there is at least a reason why we often lower our expectations in one situation or another.

So even though we know that higher expectations out of ourselves or others, lead to better results than lower expectations, why do we not always set our sights higher?  I have discussed before the conflict we all face between security and risk, and I believe this is part of that same conflict.  Lowering expectations can give us a better sense of security and in the end might would lead to on average more happiness.  High expectations on the other hand are a risk, but more often yield better results, even when we don’t meet those expectations.  Just recently I saw a very interesting short video shown below that asks the question, “Should we be pursuing happiness?”  Maybe happiness is overrated, maybe it’s not what really drives us.  In the video he talks about great scientists and artists who are ready to suffer for their work.  I have seen

myself some of the finest minds in my field spend little time with their spouse or children for the sake of discovering something new.  In the video Zizek talks about scientists who, even knowing they could die from radiation poisoning, still worked with radioactive materials because they set their sights on discovering something important.  Sometimes greatness comes at the expense of even their very lives.  I’m not saying we are all destined to be great, and I am not trying to imply that there isn’t value to happiness.  I think that some balance is part of good emotional health, and a clear mind, and we would likely be even more productive if we strove for a little more balance in life, but once again we see the value of risk and how it constantly pushes ourselves and society to become more.

So what is the answer to dealing with the disappointment of not meeting those expectations?  It seems that most advice, and indeed I had even trouble finding any positive quotations about expectations are to not have expectations or to lower them. My feeling is that if we are to maintain high expectations and avoid the pitfalls associated with them then it is a focus on the process.  To focus on where you’ve started and where you are now, as opposed to where you aren’t.  Try to remember that few people with lofty goals ever meet them, and very often getting close is still pretty amazing, because what you’ve learned along the way, not only a specific sense, but likely other important values like perseverance and courage will serve you well as you change directions or perhaps continue down the path you are on.  Likely there are plenty of things to be happy about and proud of even when you fall short.  In the end I feel there is more shame in stagnation over progress, unless you already in a utopia, but I haven’t met anybody like that before.  Happy New Year all!  Don’t be afraid of being bold with your resolutions.