Lowering My Expectations

The vast majority of the time when I’m really annoyed, the situation fits into one category. People are not behaving as I feel they should.

I have really high expectations. I think everyone should act with integrity. Everyone should tell the truth. Everyone’s motivations should be pure. Everyone should have everyone else’s best interests at heart. Everyone should be kind and respectful. Everyone should be reliable. Everyone should say what they mean and mean what they say.

“Should” is the most insidious word in the English language. Here’s the question. Where did my notion of perfection come from? Heaven knows I have not seen many examples of this behavior. This rulebook of mine is something I seem to have conjured up in my own mind. In fact, it’s been my experience that a lot of people behave quite abominably (see also: Washington D.C.).

If most of the crows I’ve seen in my life take flight, why would I expect them to suddenly do the breaststroke? If I know it to be true that dogs bark, why would I expect them to start singing showtunes? If your habit is to be a jerk, why would I imagine that you’d behave otherwise?

And yet I follow this pattern consistently. People don’t fit into my arrogant little box of perfection, and it drives me up a wall. It’s just so freaking frustrating!

Do I derive any benefit from my irritation? Does it serve me well? Does it change anything? No, no, and no.

I have no magical power to change people. I’m not the behavior police. The only thing I can do is work on myself.

Logic dictates that I lower my expectations of people. I need to stop measuring them by a yardstick that is clearly not of their choosing. I have got to loosen my grip on the steering wheel of life.

It would be so liberating to be pleasantly surprised when someone does something good rather than be irritated when he or she basically acts like he or she always does. It would be a relief to direct my energies toward those things over which I actually have control. It would be wonderful to just do me. I’d love to be less disappointed by others, not because they’ve straightened up, but because I realize it’s not my place to sit in judgment, and because I’ve come to accept the fact that people, as a general rule, don’t change.

Now, the trick will be to figure out how to lower my expectations without crossing that fine line into the land of no faith in humanity whatsoever.

Pardon my dust. I’m still under construction.

Expectations

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The Dark Shadow Cast by the Golden Rule

Most societies seem to have some version of the Golden Rule. That only makes sense. It would be hard to live amongst one’s fellow humans without one. I really do try to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I can’t imagine functioning any other way.

The thing I struggle with is my huge disappointment/bitterness/frustration when others do not do likewise. “Oy! I’m playin’ by the rules here! Why aren’t you?”

Just the other day I got royally screwed over by 5 people. Without going into detail, we’ve all had long conversations and they agreed with my interpretation of events. But when this brought on an investigation, rather than tell the truth and have my back, these people chose to pull their pinheads into their tiny, soft, little shells and leave me out there all alone to be crushed by the bus.  I feel so betrayed. I could never do that to someone. Not in a million years.

Be that as it may, the situation isn’t going to right itself, so now the only thing I can do is cope with my feelings of disappointment/bitterness/frustration. On close examination, I realize that I wouldn’t even have those feelings if I didn’t think that these people were not holding themselves to a standard that I swear by.

So maybe I should blame the Golden Rule for all of this. Maybe I should stop expecting others to follow it. Heck, maybe I should stop following it myself, since it does not seem to have done me any favors.

But the day I can’t even count on my own integrity is the day I give up entirely.

crushed turtle

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What’s Your Water Mark?

I came across some disturbing statistics on the National Geographic website just now. It takes 37 gallons of water to produce the average cup of coffee. Think of that next time, and every time, you drink one. If we each drank a cup of coffee each morning, it would use up 32 trillion gallons of water a year.

Even scarier, 1 pound of beef requires 1,799 gallons of water. One cup of wine takes up 63.4 gallons of water. And lest you think that eating healthier gives you a free pass, 1 pound of soybeans takes 216 gallons of water. And (God forgive me) 1 pound of chocolate requires 3,170 gallons of water.

I’m feeling slightly sick to my stomach, thinking of all that water usage as I walk down the aisles of my grocery store. And there are so many stores, and so many of us. Water is not the infinite resource that we first-worlders would like to think that it is.

I feel really helpless when I look at the world’s environmental problems. The only thing I can really do is my part, plus spread the word to encourage others to do theirs.

One really eye-opening web page is the homewaterworks calculator. Go there, answer some basic questions about your water usage, and it comes up with a nifty spreadsheet for you that gives you an estimate of how much water you use per day and per year and in what parts of the house, how much energy you use to heat your water, and how you compare to other households in your geographic area.

I was actually kind of thrilled to discover that I use a little less than the typical water-wise house. But then I realized that that probably has less to do with my overall efficiency than it does with the fact that I live alone.

It also gives you recommendations on how to decrease your water usage. For example, replace old toilets and use more efficient appliances. Sadly I’m a renter, and am kind of stuck with using what they give me, but if and when I ever own a home again, all my appliances will be much more eco-friendly.

It is really important that we all educate ourselves about water usage. It’s even more important that we alter our behaviors. Our window of opportunity to get this right is rapidly closing.

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Everything’s an Observation

I was looking at my blog categories, and I just realized that I categorize every blog entry, over 1300 now, as an observation. That makes me wonder if I should do away with that category entirely.

When you get down to it, everything in the world is an observation, isn’t it? To form an opinion about something, we have to have first seen it, either firsthand or through the media. To know how to behave ethically in this world, we first have to see what is considered ethical. Facts are facts because they have been observed to be true.

It is so important to set a good example for our children because they watch what we do and pattern their behavior after us. When we are trained to do a job, we are shown what that job entails. Learning is based almost entirely on observation. The fact that we tend to believe what we see in print puts extra pressure on the writers of this world.

What complicates things is that we all look at things differently. We each have a slightly different focus, which means our priorities tend to vary. If ten people view a scene and then are asked to describe it, their descriptions will be different.

So, if everything is an observation, and every observer sees things differently, what does that say about reality?

Something to think about during your morning commute.

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After Close Observation by Arnett Gill

One Slap at a Time

I am convinced that the reason so many violent and/or abusive people in this world get away with their bad behavior is that we have a tendency to break things down into separate incidents. If you look at a wife beater’s conduct one slap at a time, for example, it should still be considered unacceptable, yes, but it’s a lot easier for society to discount. (That is, unless you are on the receiving end of such treatment.)

When forming an opinion about someone, it’s really important to look at the totality of their actions. If an individual has a bad day and is moderately nasty only once, and shows some form of contrition, that’s one thing. But if that person is moderately nasty the majority of the time, that tends to add up. Working or living with someone like that can be exhausting.

It’s an insidious form of abuse, because to the outside observer, who is seeing only one incident, it may appear that the victim of this abuse is overreacting. But context is important. That’s why it’s so vital to speak up. If you don’t share that history with the wider world, then you enable your abuser.

Think about it. Before police agencies were able to share information about criminals, they were able to get away with a lot more. They could just continue their shenanigans in a different city, county, state or country. Now it’s not quite as easy to turn crime into a career.

We are still lagging behind, though, when it comes to disclosing the behavior of domestic abusers and the small percentage of the mentally ill who pose a danger. Knowledge is power. Until dangerous behavior is shared among various social agencies, there is no way we’ll be able to reduce the number of tragedies that occur every single day.

The system is broken. It needs to be fixed. That needs to be a priority. How many more people need to die before it becomes one?

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Bullies

There’s nothing I hate more on this earth than a bully. And I happen to interact with one regularly. Her aggression really intimidated me at first. But over time when she realized I wasn’t going to budge about certain things, she then had to get increasingly nit-picky until now the things that she blows up about seem ever more pathetic.

Now when I see her starting to puff up like a bullfrog, instead of becoming tense, I’m hard-pressed not to laugh. I can see how weak and ineffectual she truly is, and it’s quite obvious that that’s the one thing she fears—that her weakness will be revealed. That’s the thing about bullies. They may seem to loom large, but they’re really hollow inside.

I’m a fairly laid back, peace-loving individual, but if someone bullies a person that I happen to love, watch out. I will cut a beyotch. Don’t even try it. Funny that it has only been recently that I’ve learned to stand up for myself as ferociously as I stand up for those I love. And even now, it’s doesn’t come naturally to me to do so. But the older I get, the more tired I become, and the less I’m willing to tolerate abuse.

It’s rather sad that we live in a world where we have to learn to counteract such hostile behavior in order to effectively function. But it’s nice to be one of the good guys. I look at my bully and I don’t envy her that miserable existence. She may think she’s punishing others, but the main person she punishes is herself, because she’s tense, unhappy and friendless.

[Image credit: aqualandpetsplus.com]
[Image credit: aqualandpetsplus.com]

Adult Bullies

The psychiatric community does not like to place the label of psychopath on children. I suppose that is understandable, because there’s no known cure for psychopathy, and if you get that diagnosis wrong, you could drastically damage that child’s life. No one wants to give up on a child. But the theory is that one percent of the population is psychopathic, and the current thinking appears to be that this is not a trait that you suddenly acquire one day like a new pair of shoes. You are born with it. So it stands to reason that one percent of all children are psychopathic as well.

Most psychopaths do not turn into violent serial killers. Many of them are quite successful in business and relatively functional members of society. A lot of that has to do with their upbringing. Put a psychopathic child in a warped and abusive family, and you might get a murderer. But put him or her in a healthy, loving environment, and chances are you’ll get someone who can at least pass as being a normal person much of the time.

When children behave badly, it’s their parents who are usually blamed, or lack of education, or inadequate role models. The assumption is that their behavior can change if these factors are altered. But when an adult is violent or cruel, those excuses, as far as I’m concerned, only go so far. Adults, you see, should know better.

I’ve known my fair share of despicable adults. Many of them have had horrible childhoods. But after a certain point, one ought to be able to put on one’s big boy pants and take responsibility for one’s actions. If you are incapable of doing that, then there’s a good chance you have psychopathic tendencies.

I’ve known people who were 65 years old and were still bullies. They delighted in making life a living hell for those around them. They were cruel, hostile, aggressive, and completely devoid of compassion. If you’ve functioned like that for decades, that’s not some mere character flaw, that’s a lifestyle.

Speaking from painful experience, people like that are not going to change, and your best defense against them is to avoid contact as much as possible. Woe betide you if you have to work with this type of individual. If your human resources department thinks that these negative traits can be reversed with some sort of communications or anger management training, they will be sadly mistaken. If they don’t have the courage to cut these people out of the company like a cancerous tumor, then your only hope, unfortunately, is to try and outlast them with your sanity intact, or move on.

Yes, I know, it should be
Yes, I know, it should be “than”, not “then”. I didn’t make the meme.

Alternate Realities

As a bridgetender I get ample opportunity to observe people. I sit up here in my not-exactly-ivory tower, watching them come and go. Most of them don’t even know I exist. That can be lonely, but it also gives me a certain amount of power, and it’s power that I haven’t earned, so I’ve never quite gotten used to it.

People will say the most intimate things as they walk down the sidewalk. I’m not intentionally eaves dropping, but voices do carry. They’ll also do the most bizarre things when they think they’re all alone, so during the early morning part of my shifts on Saturdays and Sundays in particular, when traffic is light and most people are sleeping in or sleeping it off, I’ve seen some quite interesting things.

The other day I saw a guy who appeared to be dancing down the sidewalk. As he got closer I realized that he wasn’t dancing. He was playing imaginary basketball. His dribbling and his overhead passes were particularly graceful. His layups needed some work. He seemed harmless enough, so I let him play on.

On the contrary, shouting man seemed a danger to himself and others. He was disheveled and sucking on a marijuana pipe as he walked along, screaming and gesticulating aggressively. I was tempted to let him be as well, until he straddled the railing into oncoming traffic. That made me call 911. They showed up rather quickly, tested his drugs, talked to him a while, and sent him on his not-so-merry way. That’s the thing about Seattle. The city seems to allow obviously disturbed people to roam free instead of getting them the help that they desperately need. That’s something I haven’t gotten accustomed to. I feel sorry for all the ragged dirty people I see on street corners, talking earnestly to themselves.

There’s another gentleman who is very clean cut, and for all appearances is a functional member of society. That is, until he reaches the informational placard at the top of one of my bridges. It’s tilted sort of like a podium, and he appears to use it as such. He’ll stand there, thumping it with his hands, and speaking loudly and earnestly to the river. There’s no one else around to hear him except me. Sometimes I wonder if he really is a preacher practicing his sermon. He’s too far away for me to hear what he’s saying. Eventually he’ll hop on his bike and ride away.

For the most part I’m a live and let live kind of girl. As long as they are not inviting potential disaster on me, the public, themselves or the bridge, I just kind of shake my head and let them do their unique things. I think all of us, to a certain extent, live in our own little worlds. The majority of us are just a little more adept at keeping it to ourselves.

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[Image credit: differencebetween.info]

A Real Stand-Up Guy

I know this guy with severe ADHD who is extremely socially awkward. In fact, most people consider him rather weird. He doesn’t pick up on social cues. He doesn’t get when he takes a joke too far. He doesn’t see when he’s making people uncomfortable. And he can’t tell when people are embarrassed for him.

He has this really strange view of women. I think in his mind we all wear gloves and pillbox hats and are so fragile that we must be wrapped in gauze padding in order to function. He means well, but it puts people off.

Because of this, people stand him up all the time. A bunch of people even stood him up at his own wedding. How rude is that? (Fortunately the bride showed up.)

I could go on and on about how heartless and cruel people can be, and how it’s a horrible thing when you take advantage of someone who is socially weaker than you are. But the fact is that he’s an adult and needs to take responsibility for his own life. So my advice to him (which he won’t take) is to stop considering people his friends when they treat him like crap. Even he can see when that happens. He just doesn’t think he deserves better. What a shame. What a waste.

The bottom line is that water rises to its own level. In other words, if you allow people to treat you like shit, a lot of them will do so. Set boundaries. Certain behavior should be a deal-breaker when it comes to friendships. Go for quality, not quantity. You’ll be much happier.

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Getting Older

Today is my 49th birthday. Happy birthday to me. Given that the average life expectancy of the white American female these days is 81 years, I am definitely on the downhill slope. And it’s a rare woman in my family who makes it that far, so I could very well be further down the slope than statistics suggest. Who knows? And that’s a very strange place to be, believe me.

So let me describe the landscape for those young people who haven’t crested that peak yet, and therefore have no idea what’s on the other side.

  • I have aches and pains that will never go away. Ever. Don’t do stupid stuff that will hurt your body. It adds up.
  • I have discovered that the quality of my friendships have only gotten better over the years. Nothing like the passage of time to tell you who your friends really are.
  • With each passing day, I care less and less about what people think of me, and you’ve never experienced true liberation until you know what that’s like.
  • I know myself. What a gift.
  • Looking in the mirror is more of a shock each day. In my head I still look like I did when I was 19, despite the constant contradiction of my reflection.
  • I’m tired all the time. I mean, all the time.
  • No matter how old you get, there will always be someone older who will laugh at you for feeling old.
  • I haven’t stopped learning, and I love that.
  • The older you get, the more people you will lose, so if you’re smart you’ll try really hard to let the people you love know how much you appreciate them every chance you get.
  • When I was young I always assumed that eventually I’d reach a place where I’d be established, and where there’d be no more need for emotional growth. Wrong.
  • I honestly don’t think I’ve become more forgetful. I’ve always been forgetful. It’s just that now I have a valid excuse.
  • I still get pimples. Anyone who tells you that you grow out of that is lying.
  • I’ve discovered that the best things you can do for yourself in the long term are stretch, floss your teeth, and don’t pass up any opportunity to have sex. Forget about eat, pray, love. It’s sex, stretch, floss.
  • For God’s sake, don’t smoke. The older you will pay a hefty price.
  • It’s really important to listen to your inner voice. If you don’t, you’ll usually regret it.
  • The more that happens to you, good or bad, the more perspective you will gain over what’s really important.
  • The older you get, the more society will put restrictions on what they deem to be acceptable behavior for you. So make an extra effort to be outlandish as you get older. Anyone with an open mind will find it charming. The rest of them aren’t worth your time.

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