In harmony with God’s will
By advising us to expect judiciously and accept whatever is not in our control, Prof. AVR Rao echoes the timeless message of the Gita
Expectation is the hope or anticipation that an event will occur or a person will respond according to our desire. It is something we look forward to or hope for. It also varies from person to person and can be contradictory. Say, an employer expects wages to fall while the employee expects them to rise. A businessman expects prices to rise while the consumer expects them to fall. The list is endless, and this is our day-to-day experience. But, the fact is that reality does not always match expectations. It’s amazing that in spite of disappointments and unhappiness, we persist in the habit of expectations, which quite often, hurts us.
Most of our relationship problems, unpleasantness, and loss of friends or relatives can be attributed to one common trait amongst us all, i.e., we want people to behave and react in a way that we expect of them. Comments like, “I never expected him to say that”, “She should not have done this to me”, “For all that I have done to him”, “This is not the way he should have treated me” etc. are just a few examples.
Types of expectations
Expectations cannot be cramped into a single category. The ones familiar to us are mentioned below, together with an example of each category:
• Social: I called them home for dinner; they should reciprocate.
• Official: I gave him a promotion; he should be loyal to me.
• Organisational: I inducted him into the Association; he should support me.
• Personal: I showed his sister a good groom; he should be grateful to me.
• Business: I spent double the amount on advertisements; sales should double.
• Religion: I go to the temple every day; God should make me pass with a first division.
• Spiritual: I have faith in God; He should never let me down.
• Social groups: I hold her in high esteem; she should live herself up to it.
Rights and obligations
First of all, we have no unassailable right to expect people/events to behave/occur in conformation with our expectations. There is no compulsion that we should live up to others’ expectations nor an obligation for others to live up to ours. Furthermore, our claims for expectation are not as naive as we project them to be. Take the case of the common social custom of inviting a friend for dinner or drinks. Before we expect reciprocity, we should honestly introspect and penetrate into our real motives in inviting a friend home: Is it to show off our beautiful, well-furnished, and spacious house? Is it to impress him with our generosity? Is it to improve a business relationship?
There might be many such personal motives which may not exist for our friends; hence they are not reciprocated. Where is the obligation for them to reciprocate? On the contrary, is it not for us to be thankful to them that they visited and spent some time with us?
Regardless of an argument against the habit of expectations, it is a fact of life that we have to live with them all the time. But, we can always regulate and moderate our habits. In reality, we have no other alternative. Moderation and realism in our hopes will reduce our subsequent disappointment and agony. How? Here are some thoughts.
• We have the right to duty alone, not to its fruits: Let us admit, we do things in a certain way only because of the competence or opportunities provided to us by circumstances and God. So, all our actions are to be attributed to God with dedication and gratitude.
• Assumptions may be wrong: Quite often, our assumptions make a fool of us. Relating to facts and situations, especially in relationships, they are largely based on half-truths and wrong perceptions. For example, my friend introduced me to the Rotary Club, and after a few months, he contested for the position of President. I did not vote in his favour. He had expected me to do otherwise and was unhappy. He must have learnt a lesson; neither to assume nor to expect!
• Understand: My friend was looking for a groom for his sister. I happened to know a boy who would make a perfect match for her. They liked each other, the parents struck a deal on the nitty-gritty details, and the marriage was celebrated. I was ‘also’ an invitee. Somewhere in my deeper thoughts, I nourished a grouse against my friend that he did not treat me as a special guest. It was only later that the real situation came to light. He had struggled hard not only to find a good groom for his sister but also to arrange finances as his parents were old and poor and could not put in the needed efforts or money. On the day of the marriage, he was in full tension, as to whether or not the function would go well. So, understanding the situation of a person and not assuming the worst beforehand is the key to manage expectations.
• Deserve before you desire: Work for what you want to happen. Build healthy relationships with frankness, sincerity, and integrity. People respond, and things will turn out to meet your desires.
Therefore, expectations in the sense of hope, trust, belief, and understanding are always right, useful, inevitable, and good when used in moderation and with discrimination; but they are entirely wrong, harmful, avoidable, and bad when used in the sense of certainty and obligation on the part of others.
What is the alternative?
• Accept: What a great word! A panacea for all our problems, whether at the office or at home or elsewhere. It entails a person harmonising himself to the reality of a situation and recognising a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, protest, or exit. This one concept, when sincerely implemented, can lead to a spontaneous and lasting joy and fulfilment.
• Accept the self: Self-acceptance and coming to terms with your feelings are the first requirement. You must be emotionally grounded at all times; it facilitates easier acceptance of others. When this does not happen, you see obstacles in everything and everyone in the world and often distance yourself from them and get into self-reproaching through extreme means like substance abuse or even suicidal tendencies; and that’s quite dangerous, to say the least.
Do not be unduly critical of yourself (leave it to others). Focussing on your strong points strengthens them further and works as the best form of auto-suggestion. You become what you believe.
• Accept things: Things around you have their own causes to be as they are and where they are. If they are not in their proper places and you can set them right, do it. If not, just accept them. Don’t fret and fume over things you have no control over.
• Accept events: Events are not always going to occur to our liking. They just happen according to natural laws, mostly unknown to us. Events don’t have to follow a pattern or repeat the same way under the same circumstances, as in science.
• Accept people: We do (supposedly) good things to people and expect gratitude. Some do not even acknowledge or remember it, much less reciprocate it. We love some people and they don’t always reciprocate. It is just the nature of people to be indifferent; they have their own world view of life and behave accordingly. Can’t we love people and use things—not love things and use people? Love gets polluted by demands and expectations, possessiveness, jealousy, and insecurity. Expectations are the worst culprit.
The habit of acceptance can even heal chronic diseases, transform others, and also deliver us into salvation (for those who accept faith in God and the theory of Karma).
The concept of acceptance is prominent in many religious faiths also. For example, Buddhism’s first noble truth, ‘Life is a suffering,’ encourages people to accept that suffering is a natural part of life and then sets them thinking and working on how to overcome that. In Hinduism, it is the whole of the Karma theory.
This is not to advocate an unconditional acceptance of everyone anyhow. Each of us has to be selective about people around us. It is our responsibility based on self-preservation. So, if we have a choice, we may keep away from disagreeable people, but if we are forced to be with them (say, a boss, the spouse, a relative, or a leader) just unconditionally accept them.
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