Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A Word on Expectations.

I’ve been struggling with Expectations recently. Specifically, the Expectations that people place on one another, and when/why they are accepted. Of course, I am doing this because I question the validity of many people’s Expectations (of themselves, of others, of me), along with wondering what it is that I expect. More to the point, I wonder why I expect different things from myself than I do other people. On top of that, I wonder why others expect things from me that I simply don’t see as reasonable or obligatory.

It’s probably just a selfish phase I’m going through. But I’m going to barf up the beginnings of my quest for clarification here, just because I can. Kinda long, so feel free not to bother. I don’t expect anyone to read any of this at all. Just so you know.

I believe there are many different levels of expectations, and everyone plays around amongst and between these levels, picking whatever suits their fancy for a particular moment. In an effort to understand why people get frustrated with each other over these expectations, I have decided to list out the varieties of expectation that I have witnessed during my time here.

There are two levels of what I believe are Macro-level Expectations. Ethical and Moral. These are typically spelled out by laws and enforced by threat of punishment, generated and delivered by specific populations.

The first is Ethical Expectations.

These are expectations which I consider to be universal to the vast majority of cultures and populations, regardless of their religious or ethnic affiliation. For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to these as Ethical Expectations. To be clear, I believe there are two parts of ethics: one of which transcends all cultural or religious boundaries and is inherent to being human (the desire to procreate and defend humanity in general, as in: against alien invasion\takeover) and then there is morality. Morality is the collection of any subgroup of humanity’s moral tendencies (which differ from group to group, year to year, or between People Magazine issues), better known as Social Mores. One group’s mores may differ wildly from group to group, religion to religion, region to region, all over the board.

I am not talking about morality. That is not near as broad and sweeping as our White House would have us believe. I am speaking of ethics in the Preservation of Your Fellow Man and our Collective Sense of Civilized Behavior. Generally speaking, of course.

Back to Ethical Expectations.

Pretty basic expectation leveled from one person to another (or between a population and its individual constituents). Do not injure or kill another person without agreement of population. Do not steal another person’s shit (husband, house, loose property, dog, whatever) without agreement of population. Do not make contracts (marriage, sale/purchase, etc…) with others if you do not intend to see them through, unless you have the agreement of the population. Do not blah-blah unless you have the agreement of the population. These pretty much follow the general code of civilized society which everyone EXPECTS of each other in order for the society to outlast its membership (again, the definition, but not necessarily the examples, is universal, as what constitutes “property” in one place might not be in another, and vice versa). Note that the constant exception to every EXPECTATION involves getting approval from everyone else. You can kill whoever you want, provided “everyone else” is behind your doing so (declaration of war, death sentence, crime of passion, “well, retarded kids just kinda do that sometimes”, whatever – this is another topic for another post though, because I’m blabbing about expectations here, not the general hypocrisy one lives with in order to function properly in a civilized society).

So that’s the top level of what is expected of me, you, and everyone around you. Umbrella-style.

Drilling down a bit further, I find what I call Moral Expectations.

These are the ever-changing rules that are applied across a population that codify and compartmentalize certain behaviors, pointing out (specifically) what is INAPPROPRIATE to do in a more discrete and local sense. Farting in a court of law. Cursing at an agent of government. Punching the face of a child as a form of discipline. Women showing skin in public. Men shaving their beards. Yelling out “God is a fraud!” on a public train. Running a stop sign. And on, and on.

These social mores are more related to manners, honestly. They are always couched by the intent to protect the general welfare of a society as a whole, but really, they’re just the codified preferences of a specific population. One group’s effort to get everyone to follow patterns of some sort.

For example. Not all countries have the egalitarian notion of stop signs in traffic (bigger vehicles have right-of-way, or royalty/wealthy always have right-of-way, whatever), making it more of a manner, or preference of the population. Most western (westernized) countries have adopted the use of stop signs either for their simplicity or because they all share the same notion of manners.

So, Moral Expectations are far more regional, and certainly more abstract than the Ethical Expectations.

As a slight, but pertinent aside… Depending on the culture in question, there is another layer of Expectations which I have come across in my life. In most Western countries/societies, there is a Consumption Expectation which is not necessarily written into law, but is definitely there. In a roundabout sense, it is defended by the execution of certain laws which protect or promote capitalism (especially in tax law). In Barter Economies, Fiefdoms, Bedouin Markets, etc… the responsibility to consume may be downplayed to the point where it really only exists as a slight part of Moral Expectations (when paying tribute with a goat in exchange for bails of wheat or protection, said goat must be proven fertile enough to provide milk, or some shit like that) because it is not the focal purpose of that population. But in pure market economies such as those we live within in Western countries, there is a RESPONSIBILITY to consume. If you aren’t consuming, then you are supposed to be saving so that some entity which is producing things to be consumed, can borrow your savings to make shit for you to consume once you’ve stopped saving and re-started your expected consumption. It’s a very strange system of expectations, driven by the need for positive investment growth, fueled by the promises of investment return, and jolted around by the (somewhat contrived yet never challenged) volatile business cycle. But the idea of Consumption Expectations, in Western countries specifically, blend themselves through and amongst almost all the lower levels of expectations, listed below.

Even further down the line, I run into an even more convoluted expectation set: Chivalrous Expectations.

These are the sad remains of a time and place where men and women had very specific roles to play in Western society. I am not familiar with the Eastern equivalent to chivalry, as these things are not readily advertised. I do, however, assume that there is a roughly equivalent set of expectations leveled upon a Sudanese man on how he should properly treat and/or court a lady (along with what would be acceptable responses from her) as compared to those of the Western world. But for now, I’m going to plead ignorance of such things, and breeze over the Western set.

Chivalry is a quaint idea, from a much, much more brutal time where proof of ability to protect and secure was a chief burden of men who wanted to woo a gentile woman (read: NOT a laborer or woman of the lower castes, who probably received little to nothing in return for their services as wife). Times are much more kind, and even more complicated in today’s world. Chivalry is the buggy whip of modern interaction. Those who desperately hold on to it because it is an expectation, rather than just plain thoughtful, are not only unnecessarily complicating an already complicated existence, they are also being insufferable pains in the ass. If you want to hold the door open for a someone (male, female, shemale) because you want it to be seen as a gesture of respect, then feel free to do so. To get mad at others because they do not make efforts to display respect by using uncreative door-holding, which inevitably makes things awkward for all the strangers trying to pass in front and behind you, is a waste of time.

Not long ago, I was complimented for a particular door-opening act of supposed chivalry. I didn’t even notice I was doing it, because I didn’t consider it chivalrous or extraordinary. There were three of us passing through some door, so I opened it, and then held it open while they went through. No big deal. I’ve held doors open for dudes, friends, girlfriends, old folks, toddlers, and other people’s pets. One time, I held the door open at Pier One Imports so that these two crazy Nigerian dudes could steel a big-ass piece of table glass. I had no idea it was a heist. So much for random kindness. Another time, I got stuck holding a door at Grand Central Station for what felt like fifteen minutes because I opened it for a lady and the masses just kept…on…streaming though that fucker. My random “chivalry” quickly turned to thoughts of random violence on people I had never met, when really, they were doing me a favor. That strange woman took it for granted that I would be holding that door open, as did EVERYONE else, as soon as she saw me approach all chivalry-ish. So, unless I want to hold all doors open for all people, all of whom are perfectly capable of doing so themselves, then I am wasting my time by doing it even once. It’s an empty gesture in today’s world, as are most all acts of chivalry, when they are done only for chivalry’s sake. If you want to be nice and carry some burden for someone else (which is what chivalry really is), then do so. But expecting it from others is nothing less than rude and selfish, the same thing most chivalry ignorers get accused of.

Think about it.

Below the aged-beyond-prime Chivalry Expectations, comes Common Courtesy Expectations.

These are the most rudimentary of Expectation sets, and just like Morality Expectations, are conditioned on the basis of region/historical era. I’ll only discuss what I believe are the standard Common Courtesy Expectations set forth in the regions in which I have lived or have been long enough to gather decent information. Because these are so specific and many times completely esoteric in origin (and ironic, since they are referred to as “Common”), they are the most interesting of the Expectation sets to me (even more interesting than the Consumption Expectation, which is more frustrating than interesting, because it is so two-dimensional in nature).

As examples:

When on public transport (or anywhere, really), it is expected, as a Common Courtesy to give up your seat if an elderly person, individual with mobility issues, or a parent with children hanging off them, happens upon you (if it’s a young, healthy woman and you cede your seat, then you are acting out of Chivalry, not Common Courtesy, to correct what I believe to be a common misnomer). This act of Common Courtesy is expected because everyone has a right to sit, but others have a more pressing NEED to sit. This example is intrinsic and obvious, not convoluted or based on long-forgotten rules of public interaction. It is more a question of efficient economy of comfort.

A more esoteric Common Courtesy Expectation involves the formation and adherence to lines (or queues, as the Brits prefer). In some regions of the world, lines form naturally. People look for them, and follow or form them when necessary. This isn’t the case everywhere, as it is not a question of Ethics, Morality, or Chivalry. Even within the same region, one might fall into a line at a fast food restaurant but then leave there for a bar where it becomes “every man for himself” to get a drink order filled. The need for lines is fairly obvious when they work properly: orderly movement toward access to something that is apparently scarce (food, merging traffic into a single lane, entrance into a stairwell during a fire drill, whatever). But not always, and certainly not in all places.

To take the merging traffic example: In some cities (towns, more often) it is expected that all who are involved in the merging of two lanes into one will do so in an organized fashion. A one-to-one car blend, because that is the Common Courtesy that is expected amongst and between people who probably know each other. In Houston, there is no such Expectation applied to such situations. In the anonymous gridlock of Houston traffic, no one is expected to signal for a lane change, let alone file in an organized manner through merging lanes. In fact, no line is expected at all. What is expected is that everyone around you is trying to get theirs, and lots of honking will be involved (maybe some middle fingers, maybe some retaliatory gun shots).

I could go further with the Common Courtesy Expectations, but there are an infinite number of them, and they tend to be so regional that I have trouble discussing them in a universal way.

Damn. I didn’t expect it to take me so many words to describe what feels so simple in my mind. What a mess…


Anonymous said...

Dude, chivalry is dead...women killed it. I held the door open for a female before out of common courtesy, The damn bitch replied "What?, you don't think a women can open the door for herself? I don't NEED your help!". I was just trying to be nice, this wasn't a chivalrous act. This women was not in no dire need to be saved. Blasted! There are some who holds the obligation towards men to act in a chivalrous manner. If we're dating, friends, family then it's cool, but someone off the street...suck my nut.
These expectations are relative, like you said.

Yes, farting in court!!! Easy-E
reference? anyway that was funny.

brother nick.

Anonymous said...

i could add some more "heated" opinions on many of these topics. I could also display a certain kinship regarding some of your views here. But "the masses" have relegated my opinions and modalities of personal human interaction as subversive to their own tastes and expressing these thoughts would only make the gaps larger. This being said my own personal examination of these topics have left me in a state similar to the "unknown soldier" (everyone's sad he's gone, but no one is looking for him anymore). Alas, i bid you good luck in your further examinations of the socio-economic/socio-pathetique rumenations of man. piece.

Anonymous said...

You can't worry about other's expectations, that's their baggage, you've got your own you need to be comfortable with and that's that.
There's lots of folks out there who are all about themselves, greedy bastards, and damn the good of their neighbor, their community, the world. I find it sad, and can't think too much on it.
For me I try to remember to do unto others, chiche as it is. Hence giving the 80 year old a seat, I'm thinking I'm gonna be freaking tired and sore if I make it that long. Etc. etc. etc.
"May you reap tenfold what you sow" has become my mantra to soothe myself - in traffic it works for the nice folks who let you in (and that nice person who let you in today might have been me), but for the assholes I also add "so long as the only person who might die from your being an ass would be yourself."
I don't fully believe in but fervently wish for that cosmic justice. If there is, you will get an extra cookie for holding the door open for 800 people at Grand Central, yes? Keep being nicer and you increase the good energy, all that happy hippy crap.

Anonymous said...


I expect for you to ALWAYS be an ASSHOLE and thankfully you always are.

I have more expectations that you meet, but they read to nice. So, delete, delete, delete!


Glitzy said...

It may be many words but it still was a good and thought provoking read

Truecraig said...

Brother Nick: Yeh, chivalry is pretty much dead. I must admit though, it’s nice when it is revisited, as long as it is done with sincerity. But then again, if it’s done with sincerity, it doesn’t necessarily follow the obligatory Code of Chivalry, now does it?

Anon: Thanks for the support! I know you’ll be following my development with a close and discerning eye. You introspective man, you.

Mamalara: It’s strange, but my examination of expectations comes from a greedy place. It’s a very self-centered analysis, meant to help me defend my own behavior. Hopefully, when all is said and done (in my mind, anyway), I’ll either fortify (with good reason) or change my stance completely.

Silvia: I am a bit confused by your comment, other than the “asshole” part (which totally gives you away, I might add). I am guessing that you have MORE expectations THAN I meet, and that those expectations are simply too nice for me to succeed in fulfilling. You’re probably right, I won’t lie!

Glitzy: Yes. It was a long, winded, and wandering post. I like them that way, actually. I'm glad it provoked some thought, as it does for me.