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.

Love and the Future

Lately and perhaps not surprisingly with a newborn in my arms I have been pondering love again.  This, in addition with a psychology class I sat in on last semester about the subject, and some other articles I read recently, has led me to feel like exploring my thoughts a little.  Not too long ago I was conversing with a fellow blogger who posted some writings from a Buddhist about love that said something to the order of “true love can only exist in the present”.  As I paused for thought, I appreciated the truth of those words in an ideal sense, but it struck me as not how love seems to

From www.mindbodygreen.com
From http://www.mindbodygreen.com

work.

When I’ve fallen in love before, and others that I’ve talked to share similar experiences, thoughts of the future seem to go with it.  I often described it as painting pictures in your mind.  You fall in love, you start to see happy times, future celebrations, children, growing old together.  These pictures seem extremely vivid.  Like memories you’ve built on events yet to happen.  From a biological sense this seems to make sense because that is how love should work.  Love builds attachments, and attachments in this world give you strength.  If love did not make us feel this way it seems like we would lose an important part of what love is really for; to give us companionship and togetherness, and increase our chances of survival in a world filled with uncertainty.  Feelings of security and visions of the future seem so tangible to me, I wonder if it is true to others who have been in love.  Nevertheless, if you could truly stay focused on the present, maybe this could take away much of the pain when a relationship ends.  And I think sometimes this is why a relationship ends.  You focus on the future that you take the other for granted in the present.   And the loss of a relationship leaves you with vivid visions of events that will now no longer take place.  Those events are in your memory and I’ve always felt that recovery from a relationship literally requires erasing those memories.

As I look at my son in my arms, I am filled up with love.  Of course this also makes sense from a biological standpoint.  I think the love of a parent in animals is somewhat proportional to how helpless they are when they are born.  Human children are completely helpless such that any indifference on our part would lead to less care and more infant mortality.  Some creatures have the ability to “hit the ground running” parents are protective to a certain degree, but especially if you are born prey, the kid has to kind of take care of himself a bit too and learn to run as fast as possible.  Love comes in many forms and certainly the love for one’s child is different than romantic love, but  I started to ask myself, what is that I love about my son?  If asked the same question about my wife I could point to a large list of qualities in her, I could recount numerous wonderful memories and happy moments. There are of course physical attributes too as a basis for attraction. The love has a clear basis.  No quality is perhaps unique in her, but all together she certainly is unique.  The fact that I love her is not surprising, and the fact that there aren’t others out there who I might love or have loved her is not surprising either.  But as I look at my son I wonder what is it based on other than a biological drive to love my child.  I find him beautiful of course.  Every parent finds their child beautiful.  Once again if we didn’t, we might be less likely to want to take care of them.  But he has no personality to speak of.  He hasn’t been alive more than a month yet and we have few memories together at all.  We have nothing in common except some DNA.  We can’t really do a whole lot together.  It is a purely one sided relationship.  We give and he takes.  If this were anybody else, friends would say,” you need to get out of that relationship.” Lol

I then read a story about someone having twins prematurely and losing one of them and of course I naturally thought about how I would feel if

My wife and our son
My wife and our son

my son were to die.  Of course it would be grievously painful, but I thought to myself what would I be grieving about?  If I lost my wife, the pain of numerous past memories and a deep sense of loss over qualities she possessed that I would no longer be privilege to would flood my mind for many years to come, in addition to the loss of the future I dreamed of us having together.  It seems that if I did lose my son the majority of my grief would be grieving the loss of his future.  For as someone in love with his child I see a future filled with vacations, camping trips, teaching him science, helping him with homework, going to graduations, seeing him grow and hit milestones in his life as we all do.

The future is truly uncertain and so loving only in the present seems wise in some respect, but I’m not sure it’s possible.  I think the best we can do is try not to build those hopes and dreams so solidly that we allow them take different shapes.  Nevertheless a part of me feels like the love I have right now for my child seems less solid somehow because it seems largely based on a feeling completely intangible and dreams of the future.  However, I know that as he grows and I spend more time with him it will simply gets stronger and I know that as we do build more memories and I do get to know him as a person that I will be more and more in love with him.  Given how much I love him already the thought of that fills me with nothing but pleasure.  That is at least one vision of the future that I can hold on to without fear.