The American author Jodi Picoult has this to say about happiness. “There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality or lower your expectations.”
As I stand perilously close to my 70th. birthday – let’s say on the brink – I can truthfully say I’ve employed both those recipes for happiness at different stages of my past 69 years. The younger to middle age years and “early” senior years were most often marked by trying to improve my reality… at work and in my personal and community life. Was failure a possibility? Certainly, but if I worked hard enough, if I loved deeply enough, if I cared passionately enough – failure to improve my reality was unlikely.
Alas, at the turn of the century I think, I began to believe failure was a possibility and that sometimes my reality was suspect. What I thought I wanted wasn’t what brought me happiness at all. In fact, it brought me just the opposite. And I began a course of lowering my expectations in my work life that spilled over into the other areas of my reality as well.
Of course this is to be expected as we age, isn’t it. We have permission to grow more cantankerous, more outrageous and yes, more cynical as our hairs whiten and our skin sags. My friend Linda Ketner accuses me of “settling” when I mention she would be happier if she just lowered her expectations of people and their ability to create sweeping social changes. My partner Teresa is equally incapable of expecting less than the best from the people she works with and frequently the woman she lives with.
I give this background to say that I have low, very low expectations about the political landscape of my country these days. When I read about the daily killings of innocent people in our streets, schools, churches and other places of worship and watch local, state and federal government officials that I help to elect do nothing to intervene and in fact even write laws to permit guns to be carried into classrooms – my expectations are lowered. When I have to think twice about going to a movie on a Sunday afternoon with the gnawing image of people being shot in a movie theater in the back of my mind, I have to lower my expectations for safety. And I’m an old white woman. My personal fears rank low on the totem pole of universal fears for crimes of hate perpetrated on younger people of color on a regular basis.
All of which brings me to the current state of politics in this election cycle for President of the United States in November of 2016. I had low, very low expectations for what I anticipated would be a long, long, LONG season of debates, speeches, TV commercials interrupting my favorite shows, countless signs cluttering up any possible unobstructed open common space in an otherwise gorgeous panorama of azaleas and dogwood trees and seas of bluebonnets, obnoxious bumper stickers on the car in front of me whenever I drove to the grocery store, etc. I had low, very low expectations for this political process that we Americans watch every four years to elect the most recognized leader in the whole planet.
But I can tell you my expectations weren’t nearly low enough for the spectacles I have seen and heard over the past few weeks from the candidates vying for the nominations of the two major political parties in my country. Nastiness. Name-calling. Rudeness. Offensive TV commercials. The candidates look like bullies on a playground when they weren’t chosen to play with others. These are the norm for campaigning these days and we have a media that not only feeds on the norm but pours chum in the sea to encourage the sharks to circle and attack each other.
So much for lowering expectations.
I am not happy. As a matter of fact, I am very unhappy with the violence now taking place at political rallies for one of the candidates. Unhappy – but not surprised. When a candidate chooses to emphasize his vision of an America that is isolationist and embraces the legitimacy of intolerance and bigotry and a culture of violence as a solution for disagreements, it is no small wonder his rallies have become a scene of chaos, confusion and collateral damage. I am not only unhappy, I am horrified and ashamed.
I want to change my reality as I hope the American people will refuse to be happy with what has become a dangerously low series of expectations. We deserve better – we should expect better. We must demand better.