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No expectations

Suitably lame illo.

Suitably lame illo.

Do you have someone in your life who perceives any disagreement as a personal attack, a request for compromise as you "being difficult", or a defence of your point of view as "aggression"? ...

Jeez, I hope not because it's exhausting, time-consuming, frustrating, maddening ... I could go on, but that's not what I'd like to discuss today. Instead, let's talk about coping strategies.

Often the person I've described above can be an intimate - which raises the question: why do you put up with it? Why not just walk away and leave them to percolate in their own miserable little world?

Because, often you cannot, I hear you say.

If the person is a relative or work colleague, you're often bound to them and, though you can try to limit your interactions, sometimes you have to deal with them. Sometimes you're forced to drink from their poisoned well.


Well, maybe not.

When I come up against knotty problems like this, I turn to my mate the Jewish Hotrod, a bloke who's made it his life's work to understand happiness and how he can achieve that state at least some of the time.

Our conversation on this subject went something like this.

"OK, OK, I got some pretty cool shit for you here, so you ready?" he said.

"Yep," I replied.

"I've asked myself this question many times: 'How do I deal with people who not only want to stop me from doing something, but they actually get a kick out of stopping me?'"

"Oh, yeah."

"How do I rationally deal with someone who is irrational? How do I logically communicate with someone who is illogical and how do I remain unmoved by a person who constantly makes me suffer but also actually gets some kind of twisted satisfaction from my pain?"

"I think that about covers it."

"So here it is, this is what I've got for you."

"You're so dramatic."

"Expect nothing. Do not lower your expectations as to how this person should behave. Remove them altogether. Enter in to each and every interaction with them as though you're dealing with a person with brain damage or a severe mental health issue."

"Probably some truth in that."

"Maybe. You wouldn't be surprised if a profoundly disabled or disturbed person said something to you that was hurtful or they acted in a way that violated you - because they know no different."


"So that's how you've got to be with these other sorts of people. Expect nothing. Don't condescend to them, just expect nothing. Not rationality, not compromise, certainly not kindness, not even simple politeness. More to the point, don't be surprised when you get the exact opposite of those things," he said.

So that's what I've been doing and, I gotta say, it's been kind of liberating.

I think much of what makes us unhappy in general is unrealistic expectations - whether they be in our career, relationships, fitness or the size of our birthday cake. However, when we modify them, reduce their grandeur just a little, our disappointment at not meeting them is less pronounced.

And when you have no expectations at all - hell, how can you be let down?

Obviously, if you want to achieve anything in life, you can't walk around having no expectations of yourself but, if you simply apply this principle to one or two problematic relationships, I don't see the harm. In fact I've already reaped the benefits.

In some ways, this advice reminds me of James Altuchers' words on "How to Deal With Crappy People" except that you can't just ignore this type of person, as he suggests, because they're embedded in your life; you have to deal with them.

And that's the problem.

I hope this post offers you the beginnings of a solution.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.

62 comments so far

  • Yes, because they know if you pursue it and use logic to explain they will lose the argument, so they try and scare you off asap. Ha ha. Morons.

    Date and time
    April 26, 2012, 4:51PM
    • Sam, you might be interested in a little buddhist book, "the cow in the parking lot" by Leonard Scheff. Right on topic about not expecting too much from others, and dealing with it. Helped me out a bit. Cheers.

      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 5:22PM
      • My old man is similar to this. He is an absolute contrarian. No matter what situation I describe to him, his initial reaction is to find a way to tell me that I'm wrong. Often, when the conversation relates to matters economic, and I've been dismissed as a naive simpleton with no knowledge, I'll hear my words coming out of his mouth as he tells his friends that they don't know anything.

        I haven't been able to find a good way of dealing with it without avoiding him. So we just talk about soccer. How good was it that Ronaldo missed in the shoot out? Every time that guy sheds a tear, an angel gets its wings.

        hired goon
        Date and time
        April 26, 2012, 7:30PM
        • Mate, I feel your pain. A good conversation with father dear, growing up, could only occur if it was a "discussion" (read argument).

          How a grown man and a teenaged boy can argue about the color of the sky for an hour is beyond my comprehension now.

          Oh, and I especially enjoyed your comment about hearing him regurgitate your comments later to his mates, after spending hours/days refuting what you were trying to explain.

          Ahhhh... good times.

          Date and time
          April 27, 2012, 8:49AM
        • The old saying: "Never wrestle with a pig—you get dirty and the pig likes it" sings merrily in my head when I see the rising tide of misery approaching.

          "I think much of what makes us unhappy in general is unrealistic expectations - whether they be in our career, relationships, fitness or the size of our birthday cake. However, when we modify them, reduce their grandeur just a little, our disappointment at not meeting them is less pronounced" .... That's a pearl of wisdom right there Sam, I think its closely linked to being GRATEFUL. Which is a mindset that appears more easily obtained in Eastern culture than ours....

          Missionary Man
          Date and time
          April 27, 2012, 9:27AM
        • My dad was like that and it was not until he was nearly 75 that he admitted he just loved sparking an argument / discussion. He was a total contrarian and thinking back he always had a smirk on his face when causing trouble.

          I loved his throw away lines to people he didn't like, my favourite was 'drop in anytime, we are rarely home".

          I got rid of the morons in my life but I think I have possibly constructed a false life by having people around me that agree with my views mostly which is probably stupid.

          Date and time
          April 27, 2012, 9:54AM
        • Hired Goon, you described my Dad to a T. I call him The Angler, dangles the bait and I nibble, bite and swallow, hooked like a big threshing barramundi. Well, that`s the way it used to go. For example, Dad is a Climate Change denialist, so often it would start with him asking a fairly innocuous question like "Have you had any snow in Japan this winter ?" My reply, along the lines of "Ummm, yeah we`ve had a bit" would be his launching point because obviously if it snows in Japan in winter then Global Warming must be a crock. It would always end with us shouting at each other.

          I have learned how to deal with this now, instead of taking the bait, I swim around it, oh so subtly change the subject to something we can agree on or at least laugh about, which means most things outside politics, religion and the environment. It`s only taken me 48 years but I have finally worked him out. The thing is, I don`t get to see him much and he is getting on in age. I don`t want our last conversation to be a screaming argument, that would be wrong in so many ways.

          Problem is, for most people, 48 years is too long to work out how to deal with people like this. I certainly don`t have that kind of time to figure out the shitheads at my workplace and I have been following Sam`s advice there for years.

          Date and time
          April 27, 2012, 7:40PM
      • People, by nature, are irrational and illogical. Logic and rational thinking is subjective and one person thinks differently to another.
        It is very easy to not expect anything from people because they work in very different ways to me.
        I know I am seen as illogical, irrational, over enthusiastic, dispassionate, aggressive and emotional depending on the person I am interacting with and the topic of conversation. I don't really care what other people think of me as long as I am doing what I think is right.

        Date and time
        April 26, 2012, 8:07PM
        • Umm, sorry to disagree but logic and rational thinking are not subjective. That is the very point of logic; to arrive at understanding of a problem or subject using a systematic and verifiable process of thought, and eliminating emotional and subjective arguments.
          I will, however, concede that most humans are irrational and prone to subjective thinking.

          Chilly Bogota, Colombia
          Date and time
          April 27, 2012, 8:45AM
        • Spock would disagree with you Ready to roll. Although a problem may require logic and rational thinking, humans are emotional and their logic is tainted by their own experiences, requirements and biases. One person's logical answer is another person's madness.

          Date and time
          April 28, 2012, 11:40AM

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