We all have expectations. We have them of ourselves and of others. I am not going to give a judgment on the rightness or wrongness of expectations, because clearly communicated expectations are useful. Yet, it is important to develop awareness around the limiting power that they can hold, depending on how we apply them. And, we have thousands of thoughts and ideas about how the world is supposed to work, how people are supposed to be, how they are supposed to act, what they are supposed to do, and even what they are capable of. It’s endless. Which is why it’s so important that we start to become aware of how we may be using expectations in limiting ways.
How to Become Batman – Invisibilia Podcast
I was recently listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Invisibilia, where hosts Alix and Lulu explore the limiting qualities of expectations. The discuss a study about rats where a person’s belief in the rats ability affects how well the rat does in a test. In the study, labels of “smart” rat and “stupid” rat were put on the rats. The rats were actually all very equal in intelligence and breeding. Interestingly enough, the “smart” rats did far better on the tests than the “stupid” rats, again, not because of any real difference between the rats, but because of how the person doing the testing felt about the rat as a result of believing in the label. Our belief in our labels affect how we interact, not just with animals but, with other people and with ourselves. Our belief in the label creates a tangible outcome. In an interesting film called, A Class Divided, we can see how labels effect kids.
The film explores how the kids see themselves, as better or worse, depending on the messages they get from others. In this case the teacher. Yet, you could insert, parent, friends, or society, into the situation and get something similar. The film also explores how when the larger culture is telling us something we like, we buy into it without much thought. Unfortunately, we also unconsciously buy into the cultural messages that limit us. To figure out what messages help or hurt, requires awareness.
Back to Invisibilia, in the show, How to Become Batman, we are introduced to Daniel Kish, a man who lost both of his eyes to cancer when he was a child. But, through his own form of echolocation, can now navigate the world and “see.” What is exceptional about his story is that Daniel was allowed to explore the world, like any sighted kid. His mother didn’t place limits on him, but instead held her breath and allowed him to explore, run into things & try things that most “blind children” wouldn’t be encouraged to do. And, as a result, he is a lovely example of someone who doesn’t fit into the traditional idea of what being blind means. He just assumed he could do anything and then he went out and did it.
And, the point of my sharing these examples?
1. That we begin to “see” that negative labels create limiting expectations of others. We are not experts on what other people are capable of, in fact, all we can have is an opinion. Our limiting expectations aren’t passive, they have impact, they effect how we have relationships with people, how we define them, interact with them, what we expect from and for them, and even how they end up being in relationship with us.
2. That we recognize how we place similar negative labels on ourselves and these labels limit us just as equally. Limiting labels are like little confining boxes, boxes that don’t allow us to grow, fail, try again and develop trust in our abilities. When we limit ourselves, the danger is that we miss opportunities to be fully engaged in our life and learning to move through fear. Experiencing life, facing challenges and forging ahead, changes how our brain makes connections. Challenging experiences teach us what does and doesn’t work, it stretches our boundaries, helping us become smarter, braver and more connected to what we want for our life. And, that’s a good thing, right?