I was asked, recently, how I created the water effect in this photo. Essentially it was with a dark (neutral density) filter, using a long shutter exposure to compensate. Filters affect images in our minds, too, not just in photographs. Our past can be a filter. So can our expectations. Sometimes, both are linked. We can frame many different expectations, but they start to create problems when we project them on to other people. Here’s a few keys to keeping expectations healthy.
- Check the Source. Where are your expectations coming from regarding happiness, communication or fulfilment? Magazine articles are often written so as to drive sales. Movies and television are often stylised and simplistic. Self-help articles on the internet are of varying quality, as is advice from friends! If we say to ourselves, “They should…”, then it is helpful to also ask ourselves, “Why?” and to consider what that answer is based on. Maybe ‘they’ can’t and maybe ‘they’ don’t feel they should. Contracts often exist in our mind, more than in reality.
- Check the Fairness. We can get upset when people don’t meet our expectations, so it is helpful to talk a little more openly and directly about these with friends and family who know us well. As a Christian, I want to check that they align to Biblical truth, but others who care can often show me where that alignment is still lacking. The conversation, though, needs to be as free from bias as possible, so it is helpful to be asked questions by people who won’t just show sympathy, but will use insightful questions. We all need people like this in our corner who also stop us from taking easy fight or flight responses, when there is usually a third (and better) way.
- Check Yourself. What similar expectations could others have of you? Would they be reasonable? So… are you? If so, beware inconsistencies in other areas which can too quickly be allowed to rob us of the joy of life. Some people will occasionally feel upset in churches if someone didn’t talk to them or call or visit them, when they weren’t doing well, but do they also do the same for others? And when are people any more obligated to us than we are to them? Jesus said to do to others what you would have them do for you (Luke 6:31), but the order has us acting first and others responding afterwards. When they don’t, I don’t want to keep score. I can only control what I can control. A rule of thumb in the context of Jesus’ teaching is to be genuinely motivated to give what is needed for the betterment of the other person, without expecting any gain at all.
Remember, too, that when light is shone on to some area of our lives to help us see clearly, more light compensation than usual will be needed if our filters are particularly dark! And on the darkest of dark days, it is helpful to also look for that silver lining in the clouds, too, to help improve and appreciate the overall perspective on what life presents right in front of us.