Expectations, Intentions and Awareness
We as humans are goal-directed creatures, or in other words, some goal predicates our actions. For example, if we are hungry, we will make some effort to acquire food. This concept has been paramount for our evolutionary success.
To attain goals we must focus on them. To focus we need a narrow band of consciousness. As children, we start with an undirected, or unfocused conscious awareness. Everything is exciting and curious to us because we have a more diffuse perspective of the world. This also leaves the window of possibility open to many things. As we age our light of awareness on the world narrows from a general patch to something closer to a single point.
At the center of this focal point is us, ourselves, or our ego. Because of the centralized perspective, we tend to place our own benefit at the pinnacle of each of our goals. This makes sense in a world where we, as individuals needed to survive. However, since we no longer need to hunt wooly mammoths, this is not necessarily the optimal approach.
To set goals, we must have expectations. If we do something, we need to expect that something else will occur as a result. If we did not make this assumption, we would not act because we would not expect anything to occur as a result of our actions.
However, expectations are tricky. We must have a mental projection that illustrates a future point that is deemed “better” than the present moment. This notion creates a differential that provides the motive force to propel us forward. The difference from our current moment, to the projected distant future moment, becomes a significant driver of our forward action.
While expectations are drivers, they are also potentials for disappointment. If we set our sites too high, and we fail, we will be disappointed. If we set our goals too low and we quickly achieve them with little to no challenge, then we become disappointed. If we set our aims, and as likely will be the case, we are derailed by some unforeseen scenario; then we will become at least frustrated if not willing to give up.
This concept is not to say, that we should have no expectations. The intent here is to point out that there is only one person that we can hold to certain expectations and that is ourselves. Due to our limited senses, we live in a world plagued with unknowns. These unknowns bubble up and throw curveballs at our expectations. This concept is part of the fundamental nature of being. As soon as we set a goal, there is tremendous potential for something to “go wrong.”
Now, when something does go wrong, and we end up in a situation that we did not intend, our natural proclivity seems to be toward mentioning something like “that was not my intention” or worse yet “I did not mean for that to happen.” At that point, it does not matter what we “meant” to happen. Because we are goal-directed creatures, we go into action. There are countless examples of “Do-gooders” creating a mess out of the problem that they were trying to solve. Let us explore just one example of such a debacle.
There are Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) that focus on disaster relief in specifically third world countries. When the NGOs first arrive onto the scene of a natural disaster, they are primarily acting in an aiding fashion. They bring some relief to the impacted area. However, it is once the country has been placed back on its feet that things start to go south. There has been a trend where disaster relief NGOs become a more permanent fixture in these communities. By being there and providing things like rice, or shoes to the residents, it does several things. The first is it changes the diet of the locals. There have been cases where a region does not eat much rice. When the market is flooded with low-cost rice, the local farmers cannot compete, and the diet goes from having a wide variety of foods to a single mono-crop of rice. Additionally, back to the example of shoes, if a region is flooded with new shoes, the local cobbler, who recently opened their own business cannot compete. This scenario is the situation of giving a man a fish, as compared to teaching them how.
This approach also seems to happen often with non-profit organizations. There is a robin hood method, without a closed-loop. This idea is to say; a non-profit will swoop in, see a problem, diagnose and “fix” that problem (sometimes without asking the locals if this is a problem that, in their eyes, needs to be fixed) and then leaves after the “solution” has been implemented. There is no post solution survey of any kind to understand the efficacy of the implemented plan. In some cases, the implemented solution is completely abandoned by the people for whom it was implemented.
The worst aspect of having high expectations coupled with morally righteous intentions is that an air of superiority emerges. When my expectations and intentions become better, more moral, or more right than yours, then at this point we have all lost. This approach automatically creates a divide between the “in” and the “out” group or the “haves” and the “have nots.”
The real issue at hand is a lack of awareness of our actions. We so quickly justify away the negative consequences of these by saying something like “I had good intentions” or “I didn’t intend for that to happen.” Unfortunately, at this point, the damage is done. The only thing that we can do is to keep going into action. We can keep our good intentions, but we must do it with an increased level of awareness.
What does it look like having an increased level of awareness? It takes a simple, black and white, good and bad approach to the world and shatters it. In reality, there is no black and white, good or bad. Everything is a shade of gray, and in our modern society, it seems as though we are losing our moral footing for where we draw the line on these spectrums.
With increased awareness, life becomes an extraordinarily complex and profoundly fascinating system. When we become more aware, we must also be willing and able to admit that there is far more we don’t know, as compared to what we do. As humans, we are often not as smart or witty as we want to think that we are. There are countless examples where we have known what is “right,” or “True,” or “good,” only to, decades or even only years later find out that either the situation was much more complicated than initially perceived, or worse yet, completely false.
Much of this misinterpretation has come from the fact that we live in a scientific era. This tool has afforded us a tremendous amount of wealth, prosperity and a very high standard of living. It has helped us to understand much of the world that before was unknown. Because of the nature of discovery, and our limited senses, there is always room for misinterpretation. So, to think that what we learn is fact, or absolute truth is needless to say, naive. As we grow and learn about the world around us, there is still and always will be a gap. As Jordan Peterson puts it, science can tell us what there is, but it cannot tell us what there should be. This idea is open for us to create both on personal and societal levels. This notion is why we should keep learning about ourselves and others.
We are fundamentally goal-oriented creatures. This approach has led to great prosperity, survival, and perpetuation of our species. In modern times, we as individuals do not necessarily have to work hard toward some goal. However, the most significant amount of fulfillment comes from finding the balance of where we are appropriately challenged. This point is where we are learning new things but do not become overwhelmed. As our level of comfort increases, it seems as though this is becoming a more arduous battle not only to find that spot but to motivate us toward a life well-lived, which is much different than optimizing for happiness.
If we expect to attain fundamentally fleeting things, such as being happy all of the time, then we will lead our lives filled with disappointment. Without the realization that expectations are like a glass house that life continually throws rocks at, we set ourselves up for failure, frustration, and suffering. It is when we realize that this sort of chaos is a fundamental aspect of life that we can start to accept it. Once we expect life to be chaotic and recognize that we as humans have been optimized to solve these constant challenges, then life becomes much more like a game as compared to an arduous or impossible chore.
We must take great care with how we form our intentions. Others do not see our plans, they only experience our actions. So, when we intend to solve one problem, only to create one or several more, others will see that. We must ready ourselves for this constant battle. There is nothing we can do to change this; it is a fundamental aspect of being. As Jordan Peterson says, the essential aspect of being is suffering. We have been put here with our goal-directed action to try, in some way, to reduce that suffering to the best of our ability. When we fully realize this, we can understand that we are all on this same battlefield together. The choice then becomes, shall we venture alone or with the help of a group? Perhaps a strongly self-realized and self-actualized individual who chooses to help the group is in an optimal situation.
We must also take great care not to create more suffering than that which we solved with our initial attempt to reduce its presence. This concept perhaps is a driver for what should be. By being aware, we can take action to reduce the overall suffering of other people and our planet.
If we are asking why we might want to do this, maybe caring for others and as a result, reducing their suffering is love? Perhaps we have been put here to help reduce the pain of those around us? This notion seems like the fundamental framework of a healthy community. After all, why do we want to “share our feelings?”
Sharing in a communal setting spreads the burden of suffering over the group instead of being harbored by a single individual. By sharing with the group and being acutely aware of their feedback (verbal and non-verbal), we can adequately orient within the world. This awareness takes time, effort and practice to cultivate. However, it is a natural human tendency that perhaps we have lost as technology has slowly crept into our lives. Maybe with an increased level of awareness, we can place science where it should be, and refocus our attention from what there is, to what there should be.