Alternative

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Yep, Latin again! You’d think by now I would have been able to find alternatives…

It means to do something by turns or to have options, choices, possibilities. This is not nearly as easy as it seems, especially if you consider that alternative is not always the synonym of option. It involves interesting linguistic exercises based partially on the origin of the word from the “alter” (other) root so you can’t really say “the other alternative” because that would sound as “the other other thing”. Fun and games, huh?

Anyhoo, back to the meaning of the word, I was musing on the importance of having them. Alternatives, options, possibilities, choices. What you can live with and what you can’t leave without, to paraphrase a common expression. They seem to go hand in hand with culture, upbringing and, most especially, expectations and anticipations, already covered somewhere else in this blog.

It occurred to me that half of my perception of choices is related to my attitude towards life in general – optimistic, life is good and can be enjoyed. The other half of my perception is linked to my upbringing as an individual. My body, my soul, my spirit, my right, my heart, my choices.

Entitled, you might say, and so I couldn’t possibly understand what it feels to have no choice at all. But can we not? Imagine, at least, and try to understand, and try to change some of the status quo? Empathy is not so rare once you start looking for it, although good intentions can and have to be thought out better than the golden rule might imply – imposing one’s values on someone else never a good colonialist made

But there is another choice, if choice it can be called. If we are hit over the head with our vocation, what choice do we have? If a deity is apparent, if an ideology is enacted, if a person suddenly becomes the world, what choice is there? Whose is this body that I used to call mine? To whom does this soul answer to? Towards which ideal does my spirit fly? What right do I have other than serving? And what good is this heart if not as an object of toil in a very specific endeavour?

And yet we stand, we breathe, we fight and work and life goes on – reality as a choice… who’d a thunk it?

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Anticipation

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Not surprisingly, it comes from Latin. Also not surprisingly, it is related to expectation and hope and prediction. Surprisingly though, originally it referred to action, not passive waiting. I like this kind of words 🙂

I was considering today the difference between expectation (discussed on this blog in another article) and anticipation. The difference, I think, is at the above-mentioned action level. Expectations are sometimes inspirational, sometimes a pain in the neck, but they are concepts and ideas only, and as such they can hurt you more as it’s difficult to neutralize them. Anticipation, on the other hand, is very active, very specific and a lot easier to use than expectation. Let me explain by using at least two examples (what we would consider a positive and a negative one).

Stage fright is the most common example of negative anticipation. We worry ourselves sick, of course, if we are normal (people being in front of a group of others who are not their kin, that they can’t see well and who are not smiling in welcome – and we’re supposed to enjoy it? Ludicrous!). In other words, we have expectations of how we need to perform, then we anticipate us stumbling, forgetting the words etc. Those scenarios drive us to distraction, but more than that, unless we find a way to limit them (rituals, mindfulness, repetition…) they will come true.

That leads me to the positive anticipation, like that used by professional athletes and others for ages! Visualizing yourself winning the race, or even just running, has clear effects on the body and the mind. It is obvious we can use it in so many situations. And if sometimes that feels like cheating, just remember that negative visualization is cheating as well! That is, of course, a knee-jerk response. The way I prefer to say it is that we are thinking the future into existence, and we might as well make it a good one if we’re going to so much trouble 🙂

That leaves me to cover the most common type of anticipation, which is mostly both negative and positive. I refer, of course, to desire. Please feel free to read as much as you wish about it, to describe it as best you can, to try to reign it in as much as your belief urges you to. There are few things in this life that will move humans to greater action faster than desire. It can make us go through the entire gamut of emotions a human being can experience, including some that by rights should not even exist – sick with joy, anybody?

The feeling of rising out of the initial darkness, the escape from routine, the longing for meaning, all of them are encompassed. We truly do not know how strong we are until we deal with this particular type of anticipation. We also do not realize how complicated our lives are and how many obstacles humans create for themselves until we experience desire.

Now the question remains: should we give in to desire? And what about love? Where does love fit in with it?

Hope

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Between possibility and reality several concepts shoulder and elbow each other, trying to maintain a continuum, it seems. I have written about expectation, but its sister, hope, knocked on the door as well. Is there a difference? Are they one and the same? Twins maybe? They are both in the waiting period, both of them concerned with a future and a belief… and yet to my eyes they are not of the same realm.

Looks like expectation is formed objectively (even when unrealistic) from our interactions with the others (family, society), while hope is subjective, linked more to our resilience and optimism rather than the choices we face.

And I think we can agree that our hopes and expectations can sometimes be miles apart. Like my younger self realized, when she was supposed to study for university entrance but a pair of blue eyes were somehow more compelling… 🙂

Hope is not always portrayed as positive. Just thinking about Pandora’s box (jar, really!) is quite depressing, notwithstanding her journey from Earth mother to deceiver. Does hope really help, or does it prolong the torment? Norse mythology goes even further and doesn’t even pretend to look at hope as good.

Yet without hope resilience is just a bad joke, the future is random and, let’s face it, the human’s reproduction imperative isn’t nearly on par with other species. But hope, aside from being considered one of the three great virtues, is also stubborn and active. For good or for bad, people have realized that the future is coming towards them like a freight train anyway, so you might as well come on board and check what’s at the next station. It is that realization, combined with a certain talent for manipulating reality, plus a huge degree of consideration for one’s comfort that make hope a fearsome motivator.

Because, let’s face it, it is not with real life details that hope is necessarily concerned. Sure, we can hope for good weather to dry out our clothes, and we can hope for a pay rise to deal with the credit cards, and we can hope to make a good impression on our first date.

But hope has bigger fish to catch, and this comes with a price to pay, in introspection and religion, meditation and principles. We will all die, as we know even without having to think carefully about it. But the death of the body doesn’t scare us nearly as much as it is portrayed (looking at embalming procedures over the centuries, I might have to eat my words!). Beyond reality, beyond knowledge, beyond even belief, hope is humanity’s way to stand up against the annihilation of the spirit.

This, our pride cannot concede.

Expectation

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Reading back through the last couple of posts, apart from the inherent confusion, one assumption stood clear: choices (and subsequent decisions) appeared to be almost detached, floating untouchables, or in other words, objective, reached through logical elimination of alternatives.

Well, even a two year old given a few choices by her parents could probably intimate that decisions at least are nothing of the kind. They are by default subjective. So what about choices then? They too are subjective, as in they are subject to expectations.

Expectation is an interesting word. It refers to the future, but it implies a wait period, one of those stretches of time between possibility and reality, kinda like the stretch of time between a choice and a decision… maybe they are related?

The choices we contemplate have nothing much to do with logic, even though logic is a very useful tool in contemplating choices, especially difficult ones. Think of the inferences: if this, then that, and if that, then the other thing will happen. That’s as far as I can go with logic, chess is fascinating but not my forte for exactly the same reason. I do enjoy simple logic puzzles and sorites though. But I digress…

As I was saying, the choices we contemplate are not objective, they are subject to expectation, the waiting between our potential and our actual execution. And if it seems to you that these concepts seem to flow one into the other while at the same time remaining different… let’s say that occasionally I get headaches too! 🙂

If by any chance you’ve gone to school, then expectations are something you are familiar with. They get repeated later in the workforce, by the bank and a few other institutions like the justice and revenue departments. Parents are the first ones though to expect things of us. Whether it’s manners, eating our dinner or playing quietly, expectations are usually quite clear. And high!

Now I am very competitive with myself so you could say that high expectations are the rule. And they are, I can’t really do much about it. What I can do something about is figuring out if those expectations are realistic. A lot of the times they are not, what with me being an idealist (the only way is down). I am not sure about it, but I suspect it might be a tad easier for a perfectionist – after all, their only way is up… but is there an end?… hm, maybe I am mistaken and there is no easy way.

What age and experience and lots of experiments have taught me is that expectation is tricky. Low expectations are supposed to be great when you have someone lacking confidence because you have greater chances of them succeeding. Hm, in my experience the pessimism low expectations come with just makes everyone miserable and likely to fail altogether.

High expectations are a bit better if the person can hold them in check. Too high expectation, or too big a difference between potential and action leads to either outright failure or to a breaking of the soul. Messy, nasty and a complete waste of time and energy.

High expectation hovering just slightly above the current ability of a person… ah, that is a wonder to behold, the stretching, the reaching, and, with a bit (ok, a lot) of work, the actual contact… a great feeling… that will give you the strength to try again!