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On Optimism and Expectations - an SCA musing

I spent a great deal of time pondering this concept of expectations on my drive home last night. We had a lovely event and saw some much beloved friends and James was utterly passed out from lack of sleep this week. 

I spent a lot of time yesterday listening. This wasn't really my initial goal for the day but I ended up in a position that landed me in several moments of individuals dealing with various topics and situations that I was only peripherally part of or that I wasn't entirely fully informed enough to make my own commentary.  It left me as a sideline viewer of these moments and I try to use those times to learn and absorb.  These situations were all by and large pleasant or were neatly handled and resolved quickly and so none of this was negative in the extreme. No drama or fights or anything of the sort. I noticed, however, many of these moments began not with positive expectations but with negative ones. Not even strongly negative ones - I would say they were absolutely mundanely realistic expectations based off life experiences and hard-won world-knowledge.   In short - we were all being very practical in our approach to everything. I was too - lack of sleep and a very difficult mundane month made me a little less shiny and optimistic than I normally am yesterday. 

The problem came, as I drove home and tried to figure out why this was not settling entirely well with me, is when I realized why that didn't mesh with my vision of the "Dream" yesterday and why yesterday felt quite... well... several ways. I don't mean this in the sense of the backroom work necessary to organize crowns and coronets or the paperwork or the mundane legalities of the society. All of that is part and parcel of what I normally deal with at events and I find it enjoyable.  I mean it in the general sense of people interacting with one another. We were mundane in our expectations of those around us.

The ideals of chivalry and honor and hope and love and faith and all that we strive toward have very little room in them for the practicality of "mundane and realistic" expectations. They were and are chivalric ideals that are based on striving toward something better and that are, often, difficult to achieve.  It is why we admire them so -because they are not common and because they demand dedication and work.  They demand optimism, hope, and expecting the absolute best from those around you. Ah! Lightbulb moment! Now how to wrangle this into the "real world" that we live in as well as the Societal expectations around us.

There are two "problems" with this need for optimism and high expectation.  The first is that, obviously, not everyone has that same "Dream" vision and so you're bound to encounter a few folks who don't live up to those high ideals even some of the time. This can cause problems when you were expecting better than you saw or received. Sometimes - often I think -this is a matter of someone having an off moment or a bad day.  Most of us come to the SCA to find something different than our mundane lives, after all. That's an easy fix as a return to those ideals really just involves awareness, a sincere apology or moment of reflection, and bam we're back on track. Even the best of us have those moments and that's perfectly fine. Humanity at its finest.

Sometimes, however, we encounter people who are so mired in the negative, pessimistic, or simply just "realistic" view of the world that it's hard to be around them and still have those feelings that honor and chivalry, courtesy, and high expectations are in fact possible. This does not make those people bad - far far from it - but it means an awareness of mindset that sometimes they simply just won't "get" the viewpoint you're coming from. This is, again, also all right but it means that those of us working to live up to those chivalric ideals may have to adjust our own mindsets to compensate or endure through those encounters with our own optimism intact. 

The second problem is simply that this is a very hard mindset to personally shake.  The mundane world conditions us to be practical - and by and large practicality is a wonderful thing.  It allows us to tone back our art or planning flails to something workable. It lets us work with identifiable resources rather than funds or volunteers we don't have. It lets us budget our time wisely and plan rationally to accomplish large tasks that need getting done.  The mundane world, however, has also taught us that people are generally not trustworthy, hard working, or reliable.  It tells us that people cannot live up to high expectations or fulfill our ideals outside of those we trust the very most. This seems particularly prevalent in American society that we tend to feel like everyone is somehow "out to get us" and this isn't a viewpoint helped by our modern media and its focus on the negative. There's probably some very valid sociological and psychological reasons for this but that isn't really here or there when the Societal demands in the SCA ask for something very different from us.  I was very much prey to this yesterday and I expected not the best but, at least, practical and mundane reactions from those around me. 

The ideals of chivalry ask us to believe that our fellows are good, upstanding, reliable, noble, kind, chivalrous, hard-working and capable.

Obviously a bit of a disjoint when we show up from jobs that leave us often feeling beleaguered and frustrated with the abilities of those around us.

I can tell you however - our mundane views are wrong. Boy is it hard to cling to that sometimes too, but they are and I am a happier person and a better person when I can believe this.

Oh, not all the time. There are bad folks out there and people who are not worth spending time around. There are true pessimists and people who don't lug their share of the weight in this world.  But most people are good and want to be hard working and productive and offer the best within themselves.

We have to, however, let them do so.  We need to expect that our fellows are going to meet the same ideals we are striving for ourselves. We need to ask for it.  We cannot assume that, going into a given problem, the people we are approaching were intending malice - even though sometimes this gets us burned.  We cannot assume that because someone is having other problems in their world that they cannot have a rational, adult moment and be spoken to with caring and foresight for their duties and well being.  We must assume that someone working on a project can have a rational and constructive conversation about their project - be that art or service, and can work toward a better end as a result.

If we approach situations with optimism in mind, with the highest expectations of those around us - we often *get* it.  I see it in students constantly. If I expect that they are stupid or inept, they will only ever live up to that, in part because it is the ONLY thing I become willing to see. If I expect them to work hard and be brilliant -they often are. And it becomes self-fulfilling. They do it again... and again... and again. If I expect that people will be calm and polite and gracious, they often will be because there becomes a social obligation of trying to move toward the same goal.

Does this mean I expect perfection? Nope. Does it mean everyone will live up to this 100% of the time? Nope. Does this mean we will occasionally have messes created by those who fall short? Sure does.  But we have all of that even if we're being "practical."  What it does mean is that if I - if we - cling to our expectations and our optimism, we will see it more in those around us. We will see it become fulfilled more often and our interactions with those around us will become more positive and less based in the mundane ideals of a practical world that tells us our fellows have "already failed' because that is a safer social option in our mind.

It's a scary, scary place to go. But it's pretty amazing when it happens - and it will happen far more often than you might think.  This is what I cling to. Or try to - yesterday was a reminder that I have off days myself. But when I reach it, my world is very much filled with glory and happiness and something intangible that makes it infinitely better than it was the moment before.


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