That’s Just “The Way” it is
Insanity, some tell us, is doing the same things, over and over, expecting different results.
But what about expecting different results from other people, situations, or events—a brother-in-law saying something kind; a Verizon tech person avoiding jargon; an American movie not bleeding into sentimentality; morning commuters driving with less rage; a politician not speaking from an ideology; a cable news show understating a news flash; a doctor faxing a prescription on the same day; a bank mortgage department answering the phone with a real person; a muffler replacement being under three-hundred dollars; a teen-age son not saying “whatever.”
Religious traditionalists are fond of speaking about “God’s will” as a transcendent force of intention, a personified controller of reality, a supernatural guider of people, places, and things.
The less traditional among us are more apt to approach the notion of God’s will as a metaphor for the stream of life’s realities that we are in, or will be in, every day. Nothing fancy here.
Daoists describe that stream as “The Way,” the Great Reality that is the essential natural order beneath, around, and inside of everything. ”The Way” can also be seen as a kind of neutral, inexplicable causal force driving all reality, from the infinitesimal to the existential.
Don’t get your animist hopes up here; Daoists do not have a notion of an incarnated entity like Allah or God.
Whether we describe life’s realities as “The Way,” or part of life’s stream, or God’s will, we all confront something or some person that we have high, even low, expectations of (I have to give deference to the cynics here who don’t expect much from anybody).
I have discovered about myself that I have one set, in particular, among many sets of reality, that can drive me to frustration. It is the conflicting reality of what I expect from certain people and events and what actually happens in those experiences.
I have one friend who consistently analyzes everything. And he loves posing as the “expert.” When I talk to him about anything political, his eyes drift off into some cyberspace mode, his voice intensifies, then he starts listing data, data I might add, no one else is privy to, even on Wikipedia.
My friend becomes fixated on obscure information, by the way, because obscurity carries with it an aura of depth and inscrutability.
I know that whenever I meet him in a coffee house, I “expect” him to drop his analytical mode, to share something personal about his life beyond “that bastard lawyer I have doesn’t know jack about student loans.”
Well, it seldom happens. He is who he is. Life, for him, will always be a series of confrontations, conflicts, conquests, analyses, and endless debates.
Another guy I know loves to drift into a series of non-stop narratives that branch off from his main story. He can start a story about his last trip to Niagara Falls where he met a couple from Uganda who had two sons.
“And these two sons owned a beautiful orchid factory in Switzerland. Have you ever been to Switzerland. God, I love that country. But I really prefer Paris. I went there last year on my way to London where I heard Thomas Hampson do a recital. I don’t really like his voice. It just doesn’t have the darkness of Quasthoff’s. Now there’s a German who can sing. But, then again, Hofmann’s not bad for a tenor. He was great in the Ring Cycle, which I saw in Seattle last year. Have you ever been to Seattle?”
Whenever I meet him, I expect him not to ramble. I immediately begin to think, “Ah, this time, he’ll complete a story.” He never does.
I had a boss whom I can only describe as a “red-pencil” supervisor. She loved to look for flaws in people’s writing. When I would show her a syllabus, a memo, a report, her first reaction was to open her desk drawer and pull out a pencil. She did this even before she read the first sentence.
Over the thirty or so years I knew her, I came to the conclusion that she had the type of personality that could not fathom a final draft of anything. Everything, I mean everything, in her world could always be improved upon. And if the crack in the vase wasn’t discernible at first glance, leave it to her to find it.
All of these characters are variations of the conflict I continue to have between what I expect from people and what I actually get. I want to plant a new model of behavior on them, something that will tell me that they have changed, that they are capable of having some kind of epiphany, some radical insight into their behaviors. It never happens.
“Live and let live,” my recovery program tells me. And, if I am in a support group that helps me live with an alcoholic, I can choose to live inside the instability of my partner’s drinking. Or I can keep putting up with a parent’s relapses. If it’s not love, it is often loyalty that drives us to hang in there, at whatever cost to our own mental or financial stability.
Or, sometimes it is our deep fear of failure. “If I leave him, people will think I’m a failure.”
Expectations, obviously, say more about me than they do about the other person. I want the world to exist on my terms. I want people to behave according to my emotional and psychological coordinates. I want them to be on the same page. I want to them to “act” by a model I have chosen for them. I want them, in the end, to be someone else.
“Why does Jack never argue logically? Why is Janet always late? Why does the bank teller never look at me? Whenever I call my bank, why do I always get a recording that begins with “Please listen carefully to the following options”? Why can I never find the customer service desk at Home Depot? Why does my sister-in-law always talk about religion?
Well, the abbreviated answers to all these questions is “because they do” or “because it happens.” Case closed, as they say. It is, as the Daoists would say, the “Way” things are supposed to be. Or, if you are a Christian, it is all a variation of “God’s plan” for us—maybe our little test to see if we can prove our metal.
There is a sometimes crushing inevitability to many things in our lives. People will be who they are, no matter how hard I try to idealize them out of existence. They will often continue on their own oblivious ways without any need for my interventions. And they will do just fine. Or not.
All I know, in the end, is that I am not the master pilot of the universe. I cannot take the flawed characters and events of my life and put them into some kind of microwave that will singe off their imperfections.
There are just times that I have to surrender to life, to humbly concede to its imperfections, to face the sometimes iron-fist of reality, whatever that reality happens to be, particularly another person’s character flaws.
“The Way” may not be my way, but it is at the core of every reality I experience in life.