It’s so simple to say, to learn, to not expect. Nothing is ever promised, not a long life, a fair shake, a returned compliment, a thank you, or an apology.
You can start believing in your own idea that you don’t need it. Harder, though, is initially or continually lying to yourself that you don’t want it, the feelings of validation, shared and connected excitement, a firm result, revenge, or a sense of justice. Persistence in denying the thoughts makes it a habit, but often feeling like an ascetic labor rather than a focused discipline. Our minds really want to feel our way in the world as much or more than reason with it. That’s who we are.
Expecting less changes not only the way you behave, but also necessitates distance. You are actively and willfully discarding the urges and the desires. You must muster conscious or unconscious will because the act of self deprivation is difficult and unnatural. It feels like seeing a smile and willfully not smiling back – awkward and uncomfortable. Or, for that matter, returning negativity with a neutral or positive response. But, if you can convince yourself that something means nothing more than exactly what it is, the desire for more, be it retribution or commendation, moves from need to niceity to unnecessary.
Like any habit, with practice, the actions begin to precede the thoughts, and the distance from the ups and downs becomes a comfortable place from which to evaluate and navigate. I believe that from this calm bay of emotions, absent of roiling anger, longing, resentment, and frustration, one can craft a plan for cultivating and harvesting the good without being tossed by inconveniences and annoyances masquerading as problems or un-met promises by the world. Feel what you choose.
It is really a more genunine place from which to engage the world. You are not and will never be a robot or an ideal stoic sage, engaging in purely logical dialectic. Dehumanization is not the point. We all have emotions, and this is precisely why our lives are rich and meaningful. But emotions can lie, deceive, and distract us as well. The goal here is to seek the valuable ones and dismiss the noise.
Today, I found myself typically early at the airport, more than one and one-half hours ahead of my flight time. It was pre-dawn. Usually, this gives me plenty of time to grab a coffee and relax at the gate with a magazine or make some phone calls.
A problem that started last night with the airline’s systems turned everything to chaos. Upon arrival, I was met by a line that doubled back and wound out to the curb. I had to check a bag, so it was no choice but the line for me. An hour later, that line terminated at a kiosk. The kiosk system, being an emotionless interface, was efficiently spitting out digitized rejections to what was becoming an angry mob. My rejection sent me to another line where I was told by a human that I had now missed my chance to get on my flight (with an accusation that my lateness was the problem) and would have to fly standby. Several unsuccessful standby attempts required roll-overs to ever later flights along with terminal changes and multiple shoeless x-rays, which now had me arriving at my cross-country domestic destination early the following morning… possibly. There were no guarantees.
I was upset. I should have expected a seat on an on-time flight in exchange for my dollars. But as I viewed my reaction in the context of those around me, I found it easier to keep my cool. I was not special. This happens all the time. It is unfair, and I decided I must at least advocate for a solution for me. I pressed for alternative flights, refunds, and even a shuttle to a neighboring airport. None of this resulted in any positive outcome, but I remained calm and directed. I may have been owed something, but I was not expecting it to happen, not today.
And for sure, the bad behaviour of some travellers around me was inappropriate. I also admit that many people had more at stake. A high school trip was now delayed a day. Business would not be conducted on time. This was a real issue.
But, I also noticed something else. People all around me were on their phones, chatting, complaining, or just getting a small bit of validation to their anger and frustration. Some were raising their voices, probably to get group approval from the crowd, or at least some validation to the experience. There is something normal and instinctual about this.
And here is where I really began to pull the expeience together for myself. For more than a moment, I actually felt a little lonely. I had a desire to share this experience of ridiculousness and outrage with someone who would agree. Send a tweet or a text. This feeling I was experiencing was not a sense of being superior in my disciplined approach, not haughty. Lonesome and desiring my ounce of condolence. Just a twinge. An urge. And this blog post is probably, in some way, an attempt to scratch that itch.
In that micro-epiphany, I both told and asked myself, “You can choose to be only by yourself in this experience. Is that bad?”
No, it wasn’t. This whole trip is a singular experience, sort of, on purpose. It is a way of being, right now, today. Stories don’t need to be shared live, like Instagram lunch photos. I wanted that hit, that juice of validation, but after I considered it for a second, not really. An hour later, I left the airport and was walking through town on a beautiful late spring day, simmering a bit as I waited for the new flight I purchased as a solution to my dilemma. The point to me was that I acted on the problem, not on the need. I expected only the solution I would create.
In fact, if you like this post, just this once, don’t hit the like button. Withold your dose of juice. Your validation means a lot to me, and though I appreciate being a regular human alongside all of you, it isn’t required on my end today.