I’d completely forgotten about R’s offer to do something clever for me with a collection of images. When they arrived in my inbox a few weeks later, beautifully curated, I was impressed, and grateful.
How was it he remembered but I forgot?
‘I keep a “to do” list on a spreadsheet’, R. confided. ‘When I give a commitment to someone, I make sure that’s near the top’.
Yes, R. was once an engineer; now retired he is infinitely occupied.
Keeping one’s word is a high value for me; it’s an expectation I have of others. Mostly it’s met, which makes me wonder if we self-select people with like values as we go through life?
It’s when our lives become entwined with people outside that circle that we encounter challenges. Perhaps it’s someone with whom we share care responsibilities, or one of our adult children, or their partner. We expect them to mirror our values, say for punctuality, or keeping in touch, and become resentful when their values or choices prevail. We expect them to empathise with us, but we don’t always extend the same to them.
Maybe it’s a generational thing. I was brought up to value punctuality, courtesy, consideration for others, keeping my word. And saying thank you!
I hope I’ve modelled these values for my kids, and they in turn to theirs – but with a lighter burden of obligation than I’ve carried.
I accept that most people don’t think too deeply about the needs of others. And if we are, or once were, a very capable person, offering help to us may not come naturally to those who are more often on the receiving end.
Trades services are using improved digital communications to their advantage, giving us ‘windows’ of time for their arrival, and a text message ‘on approach’. Their aim is to manage our expectations of them. Government services and big tech are further behind, still sources of exasperation as they maintain barriers to prevent their customers from getting too close. Maybe they don’t care so much.
In the 1990s, my personal development years, I learned that the word ‘should’, imbibed from my parents, can be a curse. Most often, I applied it to myself. I ‘should’ do this or that, or be like this, or that. Over time, it was expunged from my vocabulary. Instead, I say, ‘I’d like to do, or be ….’.
I’ve read that as we age, we become gentler in imposing our expectations on others, and ourselves. I’ve certainly become more relaxed; perhaps there is less at stake these days.
Now, the landscape of my expectations is more akin to softly undulating slopes. That is, until a large hill appears. At first glance, it seems innocuous, but its size makes me think.
Is this expectation a failure in my empathy? Or perhaps it is, after all, perfectly reasonable in the circumstances. No one enjoys being used; everyone likes to be appreciated.
I can’t take on this new expectation, but I can work my way around it, with close attention to every step. Whatever our age, managing our expectations of others continues to be an exercise in subtlety, and wisdom.