Thursday, December 14, 2006

What should we expect of people?

I like this blog, so I'm going to answer its author's question with a post of my own. I thought about things like this when I was her age (all of five years ago), and I suppose I came to a happy conclusion. The young lady's question:

Would it be better to expect a lot from people and occasionally be disappointed? Or to not expect much and occasionally be pleasantly surprised?

I think we have to expect the most from ourselves, a lot from whom we've chosen to be close, and a very little from everyone else. Our own families we can either choose to be close to them or not, and it very much determines how much we expect from them. For those we chose as friends, we expect a certain level of goodness - including good judgment, camaraderie, and an attentive ear. We demand it, in a sense, because that's why we became friends.

Why do we take it so personally when a friend does something stupid, like date a girl that's clearly wrong for him? It's because it runs contrary to our expectations of who that friend is, and we're disappointed and sad by it. Does that mean that we can't be surprised by our friends? Of course not - we take as a good sign of things to come and hope for a stronger friendship.

To those we don't know or choose not to, we can really make few demands and must act with some distrust. I have no problem distrusting the panhandler - I certainly think that his having so few social bonds on earth as to be a panhandler means that he's betrayed the trust of others more than once. The e-mail spammer is the same way. That sounds very mean, I know, but distance requires distrust in order to survive.

Most importantly, however, we must demand the highest standards in ourselves. To expect anything from another human being is to require, at minimum, our gratitude in return. And as we grow closer to others, the more that will be expected of us by them. It is both the price and the return of social bonds, in which we all must invest to enjoy our lives.


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