Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Dealing with expectations

I found myself writing this to a friend...

"we expect, and we also expect not to get what we expect. When we actually expect not to get what we expect, we do inevitably expect, in some way or the other.

But whats wrong with expecting? Even if you don't get what you expect, you do get to have the 'expectation'..."

There's one line which has affected me a lot for my entire time in oxford. That's what my cousin told me the night when I left:

'Rely only on yourself, and no one else.' I guess a mild way of putting it is 'don't expect anyone to help you'. Since then, every now and then, especially when I left the evil HK airport, I would remember this, and a twinge of pain would follow.

Life is all about expectation really - the creation of expectations (self-induced/induced by others/both) and the reaction to expectations (by yourself/by others) - in whatever area (relationships, financial matters, academic matters, emotional matters).

I've left out one possibility which is the 'absence' of expectations, which is also a massive residual group which govern a lot of our behaviour. To put it simply/metaphorically, for example, we don't expect pigs to fly, so we don't check out of the window to find a flying pig. In realistic terms, this means we don't do what is unrealistic.

But mind the 'residual' nature of 'absence' of expectations - we do have expectations most of the time, and that can be realistic or unrealistic, reasonable or unreasonable.

There are some good and bad adjectives about a person (eg greedy would tend to connote a lot of unreasonable expectations) Here we come to a different territory --> an evaluative one where we think about what our expectations SHOULD be. This is where the standard of reasonableness comes in.

So having set the ground work, what should we do to feel better in dealing with expectations?
1. have no expectation
2. get to know our expectations
3. react to our expectations properly (eg adjust our expectations internally OR take action externally to secure what we'd like to get)

It gets more complicated when there are more dimensions

4. when others induce an expectation in you?
5. when you have harboured an expectation about what others should do?

These are all questions about degree, and the equation is about a very subtle balance. Very often the balance is not struck, however, and thats why we rarely feel an optimum state.

Just to add some literary flavour, Charles Dickens has written a book about 'Great Expectations' - i probably should reread it to understand it better, but i remember reading it before coming to Ox. He explored the idea of expectations from various angles, which was very interesting, though I dont remember a thing about it now.

What I do remember now is some law relating to expectations.

The most obvious candidate is promissory estoppel/proprietary estoppel. Fun stuff because you can basically keep arguing how an expectation has turned into a legal right, in very flexible ways.

Say I promise you I'll give you all my money after I die (hypothetical), if you walk around the globe three times and you set off your lifelong journey, but I leave the lovely world before you finish the long march, and more importantly I haven't actually bequeathed/passed the money to you in my will - i've passed it to my secret lover instead.

You can probably bring a claim against my estate to claim the money in the name of 'promissory estoppel'. So be careful about what you say to others. It is ok to have expectations, but when expectations turn into something more substantial it can be a big deal.

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