Having high expectations can be a very good thing.
Mostly, because I have found that when you expect the best from people, they usually give it.
This is my best example. Our foyer.
The carpenter who laid this floor had never done anything like this before. We showed him a photograph from a lovely mansion-turned-bed-and-breakfast in Newport. We wanted to recreate the gorgeous floor. We told him, “Study the photo. Think about how the parquet was done. You can figure it out. You can do it.”
And he did it.
And here’s an even simpler example:
Many years ago, when my nephews and niece were little, everyone was at my little condo for a party. My niece came into the living room to tattle on her brothers. “The boys are in the bedroom with the Legos and they are making a huge mess.” And I said, “That’s okay, because I know your brothers are also really good at cleaning up after they play.” My niece looked at me skeptically, but went back to the bedroom to tell her brothers what I said. After everyone had gone home, I walked into the bedroom. It was spotless.
So yes. I love having high expectations of people. I love to trust that folks will do the best the can. And I might be disappointed once in a while, but honestly – not that often.
But I also see that high expectations – especially for things (not people) – can get in the way of your enjoyment of the simple things.
I am the leader of a book club.
I started the book club after I retired in order to discover new friends and new ideas. The book club has been going strong for eighteen months now. And I have made some wonderful new friends. And read some wonderful books in the process.
But oh my, once in a while we have a clunker.
We are trying now to add some criteria to better ensure that our book selections will be good ones. Because sometimes we have let someone choose a book just because they haven’t selected yet, and it’s nice to give everyone a turn. And sometimes they pick a book out of the blue that they know nothing about, but they think we all might like it. But we don’t.
It’s what happens then that is interesting.
Some people – for the best of reasons – they want to enrich their lives reading great books – are tremendously disappointed by a mediocre (or worse) book. The comments tend to be along the lines of
- “I can’t attend the meeting because I have nothing good to say.”
- “I’ll never get those hours back.”
- “What a waste of money.”
- “Don’t ever let that person choose again.”
- “I’ve read 20 pages and I’m stopping right there.”
I always feel really bad when that happens. Sometimes I dislike the book myself. But I can still discuss it. Civilly. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer myself and so there is always an underlying empathy for the author who spent months and years putting the story together. When writers critique other writers, we try very hard to pick out something good about the writing and make sure we emphasize it, in addition to pointing out what may not be successful.
And as far as “a waste of time” goes – well, yes. I would rather spend my time reading something that thrills me. But if you have ever watched television or played a computer game or gone for a drive on a Sunday afternoon or even listened to a five-year-old tell a very long story – well, just don’t talk to me about how your hours are too precious. We all waste a hell of a lot of time. Reading anything does not qualify as a waste.
I once witnessed someone (forgive me because I am pretty sure I have told this story before) pick up a book from a friend’s kitchen table and say, “Who is reading this trashy novel?” I was mortified. Not for the person whose book is was but for the rudeness of the person’s comment. It’s a book! It’s reading! That’s ALWAYS a good thing! Nancy Drew leads to Jane Eyre and Jane Eyre leads to Jane Austen and Jane Austen leads to … anywhere!
Now I agree that life is too short to spend time reading a book you don’t like. There are just too many good books out there to read a poor one. But although I may not always finish a mediocre book, I will always start a book with high expectations and give it a chance. Who knows? It may surprise or please or teach you.
Last month our book club had a rather unfortunate choice. At the prior meetings, no one was forthcoming with suggestions but one very nice woman brought up a novel that was set in a time period that interested her. So we went with it.
It was not the worst book I ever read – but it was far from the best. It was ordinary in every way. The heroine was perfect. The hero was perfect. The plot and the writing were not perfect. And the ending was predictable.
But the time period – World War II – was interesting, with an original point of view.
Many of these very smart and nice women in the book club, moaned and groaned about the assigned book. Some complained to me privately in emails, some just said “uggh” when the time came during our very good luncheon to discuss the not-so-good novel.
There is one woman in our book club – she is brilliant and well-read and soft spoken.
She said, “World War II was a fascinating time for everyone, and especially for women, who took on responsibilities previously denied them. I brought a few excerpts from a little memoir my mother wrote. She was in the military during the war.”
And she shared with us the captivating and strong and sweet reminiscences of her incredible mother.
Which we would not have known existed if we hadn’t been unfortunate enough to choose that lousy book.
Which is pretty fortunate after all.