Humility, Gratitude, and the Danger of Expectation
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
A few weeks ago a friend of mine called me from college. She had just moved to a new city, chosen a new major, and was trying to make new friends. This is an unsettling (and exciting) experience for anyone. She began to tell me about her frustrations. Needless to say, she was having a hard time. I noticed that the word "should" was used in almost every sentence. "I should be more social." "I should feel better about my major." "I should be dating more." "I should be married." Though these are not direct quotes from my friend, they represent the daily, detrimental thoughts and habits of many people: to compare ourselves to others and think first of what we "should" be.
Too often we look at everyone else's life, make an irrational assumption that everything is so much better for them, and then tell ourselves why we should be more like them. An expectation is created from a false assumption and the reality of our beautiful life remains unappreciated. Under these circumstances we make the mistake of focusing on what we should be instead of truly acknowledging what we are. We must first accurately see who we are. Then, we can make plans for who we will become. All the while, "should" is irrelevant.
"Should" is irrelevant because it is present-tense. It means that we wish the present were different. This is a very problematic point of view. These thoughts rob us of the ability to appreciate ourselves and our situation in that moment. Should expresses an expectation for the present and presupposes that it cannot be met. "Should" is an unfulfilled expectation and can only represent feelings of disappointment in the present.
Gratitude (or appreciation) and expectation cannot coexist. To expect can never be to appreciate. To appreciate can never be to expect. They are mutually exclusive. The moment we expect something to be different we cease to appreciate it for what it is. In order to be truly grateful and appreciative we must disregard expectations. In order to appreciate ourselves we must become truly humble.
Humility is acknowledging the full truth of who we are. That includes strengths and weaknesses. Often, people with an exaggerated sense of self-worth are told that they need to be more humble. However, there are many with a diminished sense of self-worth that also need to be humble. If you are not truthfully acknowledging your strengths as well as your weaknesses you are not yet humble.
We cannot be defined by what we aren't. How can measuring what you haven’t yet done or what you haven't yet become tell you anything about what you are now? What do you really see in yourself? Do you completely acknowledge the whole of who you are? Are you avoiding comparisons to others that taint your self-worth?
Thoreau's quote at the top of the page is about changing the "medium through which we look." Though we may not be able to change what we look at, we can always change what we see. When you look in the mirror you can feel tall enough, smart enough, spiritual enough, and beautiful enough. If your first thought is about what should change or what you "should be, " then you are not humble. You are not grateful, you are unappreciative. If this is the case, you have not yet acknowledged the full truth of who you are. You are distracted by an expectation for the present that cannot be met. You have let "should" stand in the way of seeing your greatness.
A mirror will never accurately depict your greatness. If a mirror were a true reflection of the self then we would all be much taller, much more beautiful, more sure, and more intelligent. It's important to see your reflection without mirrors, because it is much more accurate.