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“Expect people to be better than they are; it helps them to become better. But don’t be disappointed when they are not; it helps them to keep trying” (Merry Browne).
OUR EXPECTATIONS ARE POWERFUL FORCES THAT ACT ON OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES. High expectations pull people upward; low expectations drag them downward. So it behooves us to be careful what we expect of others. What we expect is very often what we get.
But the suggestion that we should expect the best in those around us is often met with cynicism, if not outright mockery. “It’s naive to expect the best,” some would say. I well remember a teacher in college who told me, “Gary, nobody ever went broke underestimating the ignorance of the human race.” He said it humorously, tongue-in-cheek, but I’m afraid there are a number of people who would say that and not be joking at all. In fact, most people seem to think cynicism is the safest path to follow: “Expect the worst, and then if anything better than that takes place, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Whatever safety there may be in cynicism, however, I know of no world-class performers in any field who take that approach. Can we imagine, for example, a Vince Lombardi telling his football players, “Now, guys, I don’t really expect that you’re going to play up to your potential, but if it turns out that you do, that’ll be okay. I’ll take it as a pleasant surprise”? No, high achievers around the world have always expected the best of themselves and of everybody else too.
In fact, it’s not naive to expect the best of others. The best that others can offer may not be flawlessly perfect, but whatever their best is, they’re capable of offering that, and it’s not unrealistic to expect it.
“Great expectations” (to borrow Charles Dickens’s phrase) motivate us. They give us energy to “go for the good stuff.” And so it makes a lot of sense to do three things: (1) nourish high expectations of ourselves, (2) surround ourselves with friends who’ll keep our expectations high, and (3) influence others to expect higher things for themselves. In every possible way, it’s wise to encourage hope in the hearts of our fellow travelers. It’s among the greatest of all gifts.
“A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations” (Patricia Neal).