Helping people down

Posted: 2011/09/26 in Serenity

I was having coffee with a friend this morning, and she was describing how frustrated and stressed people are. She works in a setting where she meets all kinds of people each and every day. “They have such high expectations.”

This sparked a thought. Frustration, stress, and anger result when our desires are thwarted and our expectations aren’t met. I drew this little diagram in my notebook.

Graph diagram of how striving for unrealistic expectations not only leads to frustration, it also leads to worse circumstances than if we lowered our expectations and learned contentment.

Expectations, Frustration, Contentment, and Two Possible Futures

It seems to be slowly dawning on people that “the future sure isn’t what it used to be.” Our expectations for today aren’t being met, and it’s looking more and more like our future circumstances are going to fall far short of what we expect. The gap between our expectations and our circumstances is anger and frustration.

Some frustration with and anger at circumstances is good. A little bit of anger and frustration, rightly directed, is often what it takes to make the world a better place, or at least not as bad a place as it would be if we sat on our hands. But if our expectations are unrealistic, we have to do something that isn’t familiar to many of us, and certainly isn’t part of the American Dream. We have to lower them to something realistic.

We probably can’t do this alone. On the spot, I coined a mission statement. “I help people down.” I help them, beginning with myself, to accept that

  • My present expectations of the future are probably unrealistic,
  • I can be truly content, even in more difficult circumstances than I’m experiencing today, but
  • Attempting to prolong my present circumstances against the downward pull will only deepen my frustration and anger, and may well result in a sudden fracture—what aviators call a “stall”—leading to circumstances with which it’s really very difficult to be content.

Or, in keeping with this blog’s title, the only path to contentment in the Time of Icarus is to accept that the wax is melting and begin a controlled descent of expectations now. The alternative might be a few more years of flapping, followed by a terrifying plunge.

I’ll no doubt hear shouts of “Treason!” and “Blasphemy!”

  • Maybe they’re right. I’m prone to pessimism.
  • Maybe they’re in denial. I think I was, for a long time.
  • Maybe they’re hoping to save themselves by keeping me with them long enough to take my wings to supplement their own.

Maybe it is treasonous, but I don’t think it’s blasphemous at all. There’s a song we sometimes sing at church, about Jesus, Whom I (let’s be honest) talk about a lot and pretend to imitate. (But I think I’m learning). I think some of our folks wrote it, because I can’t find the lyrics on the Internet. But part of it goes:

This is our call
You are the One we follow
And You laid aside Your crown
And You went down, down, down.


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