What Did You Expect?

April 29, 2021 by No Comments

Recently esteemed Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested after he was “caught” “breaking in” to his own home in Massachusetts.

A call about suspicious activity at the house was reported to police who arrived to find Professor Gates, an African-American man, and his driver trying to force entrance into Gates’ home because the front door was stuck.

What might have been a harmless and easily explained encounter quickly escalated as tensions between the professor and the white police officers rose. Gates was actually booked for disorderly conduct.

In the aftermath of this incident, allegations of racism have been lobbed about and even former U.S. President Barack Obama declared that the police acted “stupidly.”

I wasn’t at the scene of this very unfortunate incident. I have not spoken with either Professor Gates or the police officers involved. What I suspect, however, is that this situation did not have to end in the way it did.

The expectations of probably all involved created a scene in which an innocent man was arrested and a potential lawsuit with negative ramifications that could end with lost jobs and expense could follow.

So was racism involved in this case?

Yes, it probably was. The U.S. has a long history of racism that will take a long time to unlearn.

But that does not necessarily mean that the police officers involved are members of the KKK or even that they consciously or regularly discriminate against people who are not white-skinned.

I speculate that the context of racism which Professor Gates studies, observes and even lives also played a role in Gates’ reaction to being approached and questioned by the white police officers arriving on the scene with a report of a break-in.

Expectations on both sides most likely led to this situation that didn’t have to end up as a big deal.

What are your expectations?
We all have expectations.

We usually expect that the airplane we are riding in will fly us safely from destination to destination. We might expect that our family will be there to support us when we need it. Just about all of us probably expect that the sun is going to rise in the morning and set in the evening.

We may expect people to behave in specific ways because of the identity markers such as race/sex/class/ethnicity/age/sexuality that we perceive.

We all have expectations, yet most of us don’t realize how motivated we are by them. Our expectations are often based on past experiences or what we were taught to be true as we grew up. Some expectations derive from cultural “truths.”

When you tune in and begin to listen to your expectations, you might be surprised and, perhaps, even feel a little ashamed. I certainly find within myself particular expectations that I am not too proud of.

Our expectations do not have to be categorized as dichotomously either “good” or “bad.” Instead, you might acknowledge what you are expecting and ask yourself if it’s taking you where you want to go.

Are the expectations you have of yourself, your life and others– whether they be family, friends or complete strangers– allowing you to live the way you want to live?

This is the question to consider.

Too many times, our expectations severely limit us. We become closed in and stuck with a “this is the way it is” kind of mindset. Perhaps you expect that another person is immediately going to discriminate against you simply because others of his or her race/sex/age/class/sexuality, etc. have done so in the past.

Or maybe you believe that a particular type of person’s behavior is suspicious and somehow deviant due to your expectations. Both of these positions are possibly inaccurate, unfair and keep not only the other person limited to the box you’ve created with your expectations, but also you.

I am certain that the police officers in Massachusetts do not relish the media scrutiny and criticisms they are receiving. They might even feel a mixture of regret and upset about the whole thing. And I am also pretty sure that Professor Gates would rather be concentrating on other things right now.

Question your expectations before you end up embroiled in a situation that is unpleasant and unwanted!

How can you open up– even just a little bit?

To acknowledge and question your expectations requires you to stay tuned in to your feelings and thoughts. Keep your attention focused on what’s running through your mind and then ask yourself whether you truly know this expectation to be accurate and also whether it is pointing you in a direction you want to go.

Expectations can sometimes feel narrow and closed. It’s as if your beliefs and perceptions of yourself and others are like that stuck front door to Professor Gates’ home.

What can you do to bring more ease to a situation so that your own symbolic door can freely open?

You might encourage yourself to form new expectations.

Despite what you’ve learned, been told or have previously experienced, perhaps now you are willing to expect to connect and interact with others in peaceful and loving ways.

You might also practice staying present and awake. Really listen to what the people you are with are saying. Feel into yourself to decide– in each moment– how you want to respond to what’s going on.

Even if a shift in your expectations such as these seems too big, invite yourself to open up even just a little bit.

You might just be astounded by the effects.

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