Gandhi, Jed, and High Hopes

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Jed writes:

Is it better for a Gandhi to expect the best from people — in hopes that they'll rise to his expectations — or to have more realistic expectations, in hopes that they won't give up on the whole thing due to having failed to meet unrealistic expectations?

My understanding is that people often rise to expectations — that if you make clear that you expect a class to do well on a test, for example, they're more likely to do so than if you indicate that you think they're all too dumb to pass it.

And yet, I've also heard people say that they resent unrealistic expectations; if the test requires a 90% to pass, and you know you can't do better than a 70%, then maybe you won't bother studying for it.

I dunno. Perhaps the thing to do is to set expectations just slightly above the maximum you can realistically hope for?

But then, continued failure (even if only missing by a little) is demoralizing too.

Not sure.


The question is a complicated one (there's a surprise); I don't feel like I am prepared to answer it just yet. On a glib level, my response is that the solution is not to have expectations at all. That's not actually helpful, though.

I am (to repeat myself) incredibly impressed by Gandhi's ability to get large numbers of people to follow him at least partway down the path of Satyagraha. And yet, Gandhi's legacy is not one but two incredibly poor, ill-governed countries, perpetually at war with each other, and now with nuclear capabilities. Religious strife, famine and war: not Gandhi's fault, but Gandhi's legacy nonetheless. The spinning wheel is not the symbol of 21st Century India, nor Pakistan, either.

In Jed's example of the exam, I guess it would depend on the consequences of passing and failing. On the whole, the problem with expectations is that your plans go awry when the expectations are not met, unless you have sufficient contingency plans (such as a second-chance exam). But if you plan on your expectations not being met, then aren’t you really lowering your expectations?

I don't know, either, Jed. Anyone? Thank you,

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