Episode 21 – Expectations
Today we will take up the topic of disappointed expectations.
There are times when we fully expect to be something or do something or have something — then, when we are denied what we want, we’re ready to fight, ready to go into battle. Our disappointed expectations drive us into conflict.
This response is common. When people expect the world to be a certain way and it does not happen, they can experience strong negative emotions. For this reason, early in the peacemaking process, mediators must assess party expectations.
When mediators observe unsettled emotions, they may ask parties if someone has disappointed them. They listen carefully as emotions — anger, resentment, and grief — pour out.
During this assessment, peacemakers discover that, all too often, parties’ expectations were unstated. Their expectations lived in their own minds — invisible to others who had no way of knowing what was expected of them.
When they became disappointed and hostility broke out, others were caught by surprise. You may have experienced this situation. You disappointed someone and they became angry with you — but you did not even know their expectations. They simply assumed you should know what they wanted.
You may also recall times when you harbored unstated expectations of another and you became upset when they disappointed you — and then later, perhaps, you found out they had no idea what you expected.
This type of situation is common in domestic quarrels. A wife may hold an unstated idea of what a perfect husband should do or be. “Everybody knows that a husband should be… this certain way.” Or a husband may have such expectations of his wife.
These “everybody knows” assumptions work as unstated expectations. The same thing happens with bosses, colleagues, and friends. People harbor “everybody knows” assumptions about what is expected. These unstated expectations are faulty — because it is not true that “everybody knows.” Which becomes very clear when conflict breaks out.
For this reason, peacemakers must be diligent and thorough in assessing party expectations. They must clarify each party’s expectations — stated and unstated. They seek to disentangle the web of expectations. Peacemakers clarify each party’s vision of “what should be” and “what should not be.” Often, this disentanglement of expectations, all by itself, greatly reduces conflict.
The other factor at work is unrealistic expectations. Parties may have formed expectations that no one could satisfy. Their disappointment is assured. In these cases, peacemakers help parties analyze the soundness of their expectations.
In some cases, persistent relationship troubles have been driven by unrealistic expectations that have never been voiced or properly evaluated.
Expectations, ultimately, are connected to a person’s ability to exercise free will. Expectations are linked with a person’s ability to see their intentions fulfilled. A high percentage of the upset that arises from disappointed expectations concerns a person’s ability or inability to live in a world of their choosing. They expect to be able to control their fate, but too often they are defeated by a world that seems unwilling to cooperate.
The fact that expectations can be tied to the exercise of free will should motivate peacemakers to evaluate party expectations of God. Impaired or broken divine relationship may be the result of a perception of disappointed expectations. In their mind, they have an idea of what they should be able to expect from God. And their expectation may be disappointed.
But the peacemaker wants to know, do those expectations make sense? Can they be stated? Are they realistic? Or are such expectations of God a source of conflict? The story of Job comes to mind as an example of an exploration of a man’s expectations of God.
Of course, spiritual direction and the study of theology can help a person better evaluate their expectations of God.
The recent upsurge in hostility, division, and upset in the Church with regard to the revealed scandals rests in some measure on disappointed expectations. Some might correctly argue that priests, like the rest of us, are flawed human beings. Sinners. Thus, some percentage will fall. But that is not our expectation.
Instead, our expectations — stated and unstated — tend to be unrealistic. We expect priests to live a life of exemplary spirituality. We elevate our expectations to a point where all priests, without exception, must be saints.
Then, when they disappoint our inflated expectations, we take it especially hard. We experience strong dismay and anger. We need peacemakers who will sit with us and help us evaluate that hurt and the disappointment we feel.
In your private reflection spend some time considering the role expectations play in your life.
For example, in the past few weeks, has someone disappointed your expectations? Did you disappoint anyone? Were the disappointed expectations stated or unstated? Did either you or the other party operate on the basis of assumptions? Were your expectations realistic? Did others have realistic expectations of you?
How did you handle disappointment? Did you lose control? What role, if any, did humility play? In the future, how will you help others manage disappointment? How will you plan to manage your own disappointment?
If you keep a journal, write up policy suggestions that you believe will help you to better manage your expectations and the expectations of others. This source of conflict deserves your attention and planning.
May God bless you and bring you peace.