My mission to procure cigarettes and beer from the liquor store nearly ended in disaster one night last summer when a woman in a swell car almost ran me down. She had responsibly checked for oncoming traffic — in the wrong direction — before executing her turn, and as she passed me our eyes met through the passenger window. She looked at me as if to say, “oh! how long have you been there?” and I stood in the street, toes mere inches from her rolling tires, grinning back at her in frank amusement.
I should have been outraged. I should have spit upon the hood of her car. The thing is, I just didn’t feel any anger toward her at all. I found it funny that she might have killed me outright and, altogether oblivious of her manslaughter, simply gone on to shop at Target.
Was it remarkable that a person should make such a glaring error among the throngs of humans negotiating the myriad avenues and boulevards of Los Angeles County, thought I? Oh, hardly. In fact, only an idiot wouldn’t expect it.
Then suddenly, as I went on my way with a wide smile warming my face, I shrugged, and an epiphany descended upon me as if from heaven.
“Expect little,” I said aloud.
And I’ve been saying it every day since.
Expect little is a prayer. It soothes and calms. It educates. It’s an unlikely mantra which inculcates a sort of passive humility.
It may be a nice gesture to presume that everyone is endowed with friendliness, elementary skills and common sense, but it’s an unlikely supposition which can only lead to discontent. One ought rather to expect little of others. Hate becomes very difficult when people act in accordance with your already-low expectations of them.
It behooves us all to acquaint ourselves with the idea that humanity may not be cut out for greatness, not even in our own hackneyed estimation.
Expect little, friends, because the highest percentage of people is always more rude, stupid, and unkempt than the minority of well-mannered, intelligent, and hygienic people. This is because exceptional characteristics are by definition above average — which is to say, that they are the exception, rather than the rule. Expecting little from people allows you to be content with the way people actually are, and pleasantly surprised by above-average behavior, which is as it should be.
To expect excellence from people, on the other hand, is silly. People have never been cool en masse, but mass media has programmed us to expect everyone to be beautiful, polite, and at least somewhat intelligent. This is (ha, ha!) not the case.
Expecting excellence from people is not even respectful to them. In fact, it’s condescending. You aren’t so cool, yourself, you know, particularly from the perspectives of people who don’t live up to your high standards. We — you and I — are not cool enough to expect good things from others. We don’t even know what cool is, in the universal sense.
Let people be stupid. Let them be themselves, for God’s sake (big G). Let them be stupid today, because you’re probably going to do something stupid tomorrow.
Expect little, because you can quickly become depressed by the amount of people who fail to meet your expectations. That’s not any good. Discontent with others leads to treating people as though you do not like them around — which tends to convince people that you do not like them around. Pretty soon, you find yourself without anybody around, and where do you suppose everyone has gone? Why, into the next room, of course, where everyone is frowning in your direction and calling you an elitist asshole.
Of you, they would do better to expect little.
We don’t only have irrationally high expectations of people, though. Occasionally, we even find ourselves angry with luck, itself, as if it were slacking or something, remiss in its duties, not paying close enough attention to us and producing the wrong kind of random event. This is perhaps our most common madness. Why should we expect good fortune from random chance? Random chance is the one thing from which we shouldn’t expect anything at all!
The world’s smartest computer can’t make accurate predictions of what random chance will produce. Why bother lamenting an unfortunate mishap as if shocked that it might inconvenience you? Mishaps happen. In fact, mishaps happen so regularly — and with such colorful variety — that we ought long ago to have stopped guessing what should or should not transpire within the course of a day. However, the rusty computers between our ears are always half-dedicated to overestimating their ill-collected data and faulty projections.
You see, then, we even expect too much of ourselves. We’re only human, friends. Chase your dreams in earnest, quest valiantly for glory, and by-all-means be the change you wish to see in the world, as the neo-hippies say — but…
Expect little! Expect your neighbor to make too much noise. Expect your boss to give you too much work. Expect helicopter parenting, drunk driving, and repeat offending, often by the same culprits. Expect your favorite band to use too much cowbell.
Expect people from poorly educated states in poorly educated countries to act poorly educated. Expect people crammed into tight quarters with millions of others to develop hurtful prejudices. Expect full-grown adults to parrot what they see in movies, in magazines, and in mainstream music, and expect their teenagers (raised likewise by televisions and gangsta rap) to be perfectly disrespectful.
Expect politicians to lie, and cheat, and steal, not to mention fornicate with people you’d rather they wouldn’t. Expect people with guns (soldiers, cops, and criminals) to shoot people. Expect druggies to do drugs and go about in public on drugs, and to act just as though they might be high on drugs. Say to them when you see them shrinking from the demons down aisle nine at Rite-Aid, “Hello, druggie. How do you do?”
Expect preachers to sin, marriages to fail, and sons and daughters to leave the family religion. Expect athletes to take steroids, psychiatrists to prescribe poison, and models to mutilate themselves surgically. Expect wonder. Expect marvel. Expect to be astonished at the spectacle in which every one of us plays a humble part.
In other words, expect people to act just as though they were human — but for your own sake as well as that of others, the next time your friend complains that a significant other has forgotten an anniversary, or that some ruthless businessman has destroyed the local economy, or that a hapless driver has run over his or her favorite author (ahem), just shrug your shoulders and smile sympathetically, offer a beer and say to your friend,
With a great big smile and my fingers crossed, I remain,