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Stop Expecting You from Other People by Neil Anderson

Oct 30, 2020

While scrolling through my Facebook page recently, I came across something rather poignant and prickly that arrested my attention. It was one of the many countless drive by memes shared in the flow of social media posted by a friend. This one was different.

It didn’t tweak my political sensibilities, arouse excitement or indignation. It didn’t gain a nod of agreement on my part nor knee jerk dismissal. Instead it pinched my insides in a way that made me vaguely uncomfortable in such a way that compelled me to come back to it like an itchy scab. It simply said “Stop expecting you from other people.”

Wow. Just like that. It carried enough edginess to prove irresistible to any student of self work, especially so the Enneagram adept. If anyone has applied themselves in earnest to any wisdom tradition this was the kind of thing that would stand out. It’s part of our nature and design and to seek connection and confirmation that we’re ok and have to that in some way reflected back to us by the other along with an assumption that they’re on our wavelength.

If this weren’t at least partially true it wouldn’t be possible to forge certain common agreements that form the stuff of culture, language, society and a lot more. Indeed, there are people who have written their doctoral theses on this kind of stuff, but the aforementioned meme didn’t feel quite like a creature of that domain so much as it was something that pointed back at the reader like an annoying hangnail that occurs at the membrane of contact with another, hopefully calling upon us to lead a more examined life.

Whatever our experiences have been they are uniquely ours. The way we’ve metabolized those experiences makes for powerful expectations and assumptions about the behavior, actions and motives of the other. In some way we expect to see ourselves in the other, often with the belief that they should somehow reason forth as we do, reach conclusions as we did and feel as we feel.

In especially divisive times as now it is all too easy to do this, as our impulse toward connection becomes subverted by the veil of our own experience. On a minor scale such assumptions may make for miscommunication. A heavier toll might be the loss of a friendship or even a closed door on a relative or close friend. Our desire to share our interior may be rebuked or vice versa on a very thin thread indeed.

Our self work regardless the form it takes calls upon us to do at least two very difficult things. Firstly, examine our interior reactivity without judgement,thus opening up vistas of choices about how we can respond in place of reacting,and secondly to enter the felt space of another even when they seem opaque to our understanding. That’s a tall order for most anyone,but if we welcome this as a lifetime yoga in presence of others,with authenticity and vulnerability as our riding partners, we stand a chance in this time of great uncertainty of having genuine contact.

I’ll always remember the loving advice of our beloved Enneagram teacher Dr. David Daniels to exhibit a little curiosity about the other, coupled with a willingness to operate a little less from a fixed position. We even have permission to revisit and revise our own belief and values that we had assumed non negotiable. Yes, we can still keep them but it doesn’t hurt to to dust them off for re examination in the spirit of our personal evolution and growth.

I often find that good, thoughtful questions fostered by genuine curiosity provide bridges of contact better than declarations from a position one is defending. Certainly there  is a time for both sensibilities but putting forth one’s uncertainty can be a way of setting the table for dialogue,discussion and an opportunity to complexify and thus humanize the other. It is all too easy to forget this and objectify an individual or group and fail to remember that there have been some experiences unknown to you that led them to that view or position.

One can also apply good questions to oneself. Tap your interior on the shoulder with questions like “What is arising when I’m misheard and sometimes have to settle for that?” Or “What is it to simply influence another by planting a seed in their mind or heart while loving their evolution?”

The times sometimes demand that we live in the light of non closure from time to time that  beckons to us and points toward participation in a conscious community. “We who know” more than ever have a cosmic calling to weigh the effects of our chosen words, actions and our imperfect attempts to help. Its a dance worth engaging.

You will stumble. You will miss the mark. That’s ok. And you will hopefully laugh at yourself too. You will also sit with irony and paradox. Just remember that you have been sung into existence to play your part in the service of genuine contact,love  and authenticity and in that sense you are doing nothing wrong. If we do this I believe we can and will find ourselves in a continual process of learning and loving. Be well.