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Reality is an Illusion Built by Expectations

Irakli Ambokadze -

Tingyu Su -

Have you ever been in a bank robbery? It’s not a pleasant experience having a gun pointing at you, right? Well, even those who have not had the pleasure of experiencing these life-changing moments can easily imagine the terror of it. Do you know what all the poor bank customers lying on the floor have in common apart from bone-chilling terror? None of them were expecting to walk into a hostage situation when they entered.

Our feelings and attitudes are tightly connected to our expectations. In other words, objective reality is perceived through our expectations about it and when these anticipations mismatch the truth, it often causes displeasure. How many times have you heard someone say “I expected more”? Remember how many times you have heard people discussing a movie outside of the theatre, claiming that they “expected more”, whilst, in truth, they just expected something else. Usually the first movie of the franchise is the most successful. I remember when the Transformers came out in 2007. It was a huge sensation and people loved it. After two years, a second movie came out. From an average movie viewer's perspective these two are quite similar. However, if we trust Rotten Tomatoes, the average audience score had decreased from 85% to 57%. I remember my friends and I also hating the second part, simply because we all expected more. The first one was ground-breaking and innovative, so why shouldn’t the second one blow our minds similarly? How many times have you expected better weather and got badly disappointed? If you love to hike, especially as unprepared as I usually do, you’ll be familiar with the coldness of the first raindrops when you were hoping for a a sunny, cloudless sky. On the other hand, I cannot even count how many times I have said with irritation, “the forecast said there was 98% chance of rain, but it is sunny outside”. It is ultimately better weather, just not what I had expected.

Unfortunately, not having your expectations met can lead to consequences more serious than just not liking a movie. I worked at a couple of places during the last few years - the most common attribute of each workplace was disappointed employees. We expect that employers will praise our every teeny-tiny achievement and are disappointed when they don’t. At the same time, we forget that our employers are humans too, with their own challenges. When we expect a salary raise, they might be struggling to keep us employed and not go bankrupt in the process. The moment we become team leaders and take some steps in their shoes, we expect those under us to be motivated and excited. During this process of criticizing employers or employees, we often forget to ask the most important question: “are they obliged to do what we expect, or are these expectations just ours?”. In most cases, the employers who are disappointed by the unmotivated staff have not actually created a supportive and engaging work environment. An environment where their employees can fulfil their own expectations.

It is without a doubt that expectations influence and govern our perception of reality, be it regarding the movie, weather, education, or an employment. More often than necessary, we base our decisions on them. Man ypeople are still having trouble establishing and freely expressing their sexual orientation, especially if it they live in a slightly more conservative country than Sweden. In her TED talk about self-imposed expectations, Elizabeth Higgins Clark, an LA-based writer and actress, tells the audience how hard it was to tell her parents that she was gay because she expected that it would “crush” their dreams. “What would people think?” – have I often heard. Consequently, I have often restricted myself from doing certain things. But if some rebellious spirit awakens inside you and you do it anyway, you will be surprised by how little people actually care. ’If a mind tries to live up to every expectation, it can become a very dangerous place” - concludes Mrs. Higgins.. I believe it is unwise to base our actions on what society would think - even if you walk on water, there will be someone mockingly commenting “hah, you don’t know how to swim?”.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that we should ignore expectations. Dr. John Hatti, an education researcher and director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute published a research paper, stating that during student education the most influential aspect of academic growth (more than doing homework!) is the teachers’ expectations of students’ achievement. Every teacher unconsciously projects their expectations regarding the specific student’s capability. After an extended period of time, students start believing and actually adapting to those expectations. Expectations form our reality. Interestingly another highly impactful factor to academic growth turns out to be students’ own expectations of themselves. As students, we achieve the level we expect to reach.

Expectations can be extremely positive - or extremely harmful. But what can we do? Should we ignore others’ as well as ours, and go through live with no expectations at all? I hope you have not been expecting to find the answer to that question here - you would be dissapointed. Still, be open-minded and look at everything from a new perspective. When you meet a stranger, do not surround them in a boundary ofstereotypes. It is always good to give everyone a chance regardless of predefined expectations that might not even be ours. On the other hand, try to take others’ expectations into consideration. Ask yourself “what do I expect from this particular engagement?” and “what do others expect?”. That will help you to figure out what you want and actually set everyone on the same page. Secondly, as American author and coach Tony Robbins said, “trade your expectations for appreciations” – try to appreciate things that you do not have control over. How many times wereyou surprised that the barista at your local coffee shop was surprisingly nice and engaging? Honestly, I have no idea! Such events usually get ignored and forgotten but I am sure they are plenty. Would it not have been betbetter if we did not take them as granted?

Expectations are a powerful thing. They are terrifying and inspiring at the same time. They might determine, guide, and govern your decisions. As objective reality is perceived through our expectations, you could say that we are even living in the illusion our expectations create. Somewhere out there might be a girl who did not expect her coffee to be that hot and burned her tongue; I absolutely did not expect to have to shorten this article because I am over the word limit but here I am; there might be a bank robbery hostage who absolutely did not expect to end up lying on the floor; there might be a kid somewher who is told that he is lazy and cannot achieve anything with such an attitude; there might be a girl attracted to a female classmate, but too afraid to admit it because she expects that her parents would not approve; there is definitely someone in the east who thought that he would win a war and march into Kyiv in a couple of days. Expectations can be impactful, they can have direct physical or mental influence, they can determine your decisions and actions, they can alter your perception of events and they might even cost a war, resulting in lost lives, destroyed families and cities, lost generations. Be aware of how much those expectations form your own reality.

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Publicerad: 2023-02-03

Ansvarig utgivare: Raquel Frescia
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