More Hope, Less Expectation

About a decade ago, I visited people’s homes to do something called “behavior therapy.” This involved a schmuck like me showing up to talk with families about ways of helping their kids– most of whom were struggling with Autism, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, among other “disorders”–develop life skills.

As part of therapy, I’d ask family members to help their children with homework, picking out clothes for the day, managing the kids’ emotions, and so forth. When new to this, I showed disappointment when family members didn’t help the kids as discussed. Sometimes, I’d even judge them and think of them as “bad parents.” Exasperating stuff.

Pretty soon, I was burning out and realized that I needed to either change jobs or my thinking. For a little while at least, I changed the latter. To cope, I began experimenting with various approaches–taking the perspective of the kids, their parents, lowering my expectations, etc.–yet it wasn’t until I stopped expecting all together that I found meaning in the job.

This was when I started replacing expectation with hope. No longer demanding others to act in expected ways, I began observing their transformations,and noted major positive changes in kids and families as a result. For you see, once equipped with hope, I offered more words of encouragement, listened more intently, and expressed greater empathy for families’ unique circumstances. I found that most of the time, all the families needed were confidence in their ability to change, knowledge that many others shared similar experiences, and hope that things could get better.

Many of us think of hope and expectation as interchangeable. The truth is they differ in slight, but significant ways.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hope and expectation as follows:

  • hope: the feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen
  • expectation: a belief that something will happen or is likely to happen

Consider how a hope-oriented person and an expectation-oriented person would respond to the same scenario: at the last minute, a friend cancels dinner plans:

  • Person A, who tends to hope, grants the friend the benefit of the doubt and wishes to reschedule a social outing with his friend soon.
  • Person B, who tends to expect, is disappointed in his friend, resents that she allowed him to be lonely tonight, and expects his “so-called friend” to make it up to him.

When broken down to their essences, we see that:

  • hope wishes; expectation demands
  • hope enhances our well-being by inspiring awe and joy when good things happen; expectation maintains our mental state by failing to be pleasantly surprised when good things happen (i.e., good things are expected to happen).
  • hope is the language of vernacular cultures (e.g., “I hope I can borrow her shovel some time soon”); expectation is the language of capitalist cultures (e.g., “I paid that gardener already, he better be over here with shovel in hand soon.”).

How about we leave expectation to the capitalist cronies, and wrap our arms around hope!

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