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Expectations and Self-Determination

The social capital of any society is education and identity. Valid identity of the individual, identity of the collective and identity of the nation sustained and enabled by proper education/knowledge results in positive growth and development both of the nation and the individual. Culture which enables respect both for oneself and for the other, understanding  obligations, value based responses and  ability to move from personification and identification to personal goals which do not impinge on goals of others, creates the appropriate climate for the individual to deal with others and situations in an equitable manner.

Self restraint/control in dealing with situations and disruptions is the outcome of valid knowledge and perception. Cognition of what is to be done is more an analytical conclusion based on self-esteem and how one is able to view one’s life prospects.  Valid knowledge, ability to discern, choice of personal goals, freedom to choose autonomy of life prospects and development of mental functioning defines the personal identity of a person. While individual growth and self sufficiency is dependent on social order, norms dictated by culture and accepted values, establishing a code of conduct needs acceptance and acknowledgment of an identity, be it personal or of the group or society. The normal leaning towards identifying with a social group tends to take away the autonomy in thinking and emotions of the group lead the individual into an accepted action. The need to belong leads to orientation with a collective identity i.e., ideological orientations, collective sentiments and opinions, accommodation to the socio-cultural sentiments and requirements. What appears as a patent cause which attracted the individual to the group, leads the individual to a crisis in identity due to altered standards of morality when the ideology of the self is in contradiction or not in consonance with that of the group. This then unconsciously becomes the first step towards annihilation of self-determination.

Self-determination can thrive only when is able to gain knowledge which sustains self esteem, self identity and self control. To move from the perceived need to attach to the identification phase to identity, one needs valid knowledge and not aligning with a group based on fear or social proof. Formal education is unable to provide this kind of knowledge as it is more of identifying with the ‘herd,’ necessarily due to the nature of information that is imparted to the individual. There is no scope for learning about basics of valid knowledge that lead to identity formation of the self.  What are taught in formal education are topics of interest for the group and not information to deal with the self and to deal courageously with the true nature of the self/svabhava. Added to this economic instability and family structure which does not provide the space for cohesive living has resulted in unreasonable expectations that colour the conduct of the individual.

Expectations are projections of entitlement. They can be either fulfilled or frustrated. Often the question is ‘why not.’ Expectations are often based on a civic identity, a social proof acknowledgment or need. When the collective need takes over, the ability to analyse, evaluate individual needs loses its ability to surface, and emotions take over to establish a projected ‘right’. There is a tendency to attribute a moral responsibility is attributed to the other as it is deemed reasonable to expect from the ‘other’ fulfilment of an action or deed, holding the other to the expectation, even if he/she is aware of it or not. In a traditional family the expectation of the young one to abide by the wishes of the elders, is often an expectation communicated by saying-“as the youngest in the family it is your duty to —–“.  On the contrary outside his family circle, elders cannot expect fulfilment of this expectation on the same terms as it would be unreasonable for the group outside the family to make this demand.

Expectations are not just for satisfaction of one’s perceived wants. They are also thoughts that get hijacked to a disruption mode by fear, improper esteem and ineffective valuation of the self.  Expectations cannot survive and thrive in limbo. Expectations are bondages which attract external influences like people or object or situation that one relates to. The self is always in a controlling mode and expectations are a reason to justify control. The paradox is that resistance to any idea tends to become irresistible. Control, exercised in the form of resistance or irresistible wants projects expectations as entitlements.

The wants of the individual are justified by the person as his/her right without considering the fact that he/she has an obligation to orient with other person’s expectations also. Expectations often take cover under social norms even when opposed to self identity due to the need to belong and be accepted. Unless there is a conscious attempt to understand that external influences which fuel wants are unsustainable, unpredictable and uncontrollable, focus or perspective cannot shift. Attachment to an idea automatically invites hatred for another.  Consciousness of the inherent opposites in nature can alone revel the true nature of people, objects or situations.

A proper perspective of the reasonability of the expectation alone can deflect frustration. Anger or negative emotions dissipate only when differences and perspectives are acknowledged. Anger is a manifestation of rigid expectations. What one desires or gets attached to becomes the root cause for demands. This then is the reason for complaints and blame. When one is able to observe that there is no reason to get attached or that the impression that one needs to have something done by the other is not tangible, then entitlement is not a priority. Once entitlement loses its rigidity, the energy that sustained it moves into another form helping anger to dissipate. Just as one can’t ask why touching fire will lead to burns, one has to accept certain situations and not question ‘why not.’

Ordinarily, compliance of a social norm is usually out of fear, esteem or perceived legitimacy. Apologizing when it is not according to the accepted norm is out of perceived legitimacy and proof of esteem. But this is not global as culture and ethnic diversity in such perceptions also tend to see the same situation as an affront or as disrespect. Self-determination is not even recognized as possible in such situations.

In a culture where the eldest male is the head of the family and his word is the law, when the daughter of the family goes to court to get her share of the property under law, he thinks that it is unbecoming of a woman to go to court. Though the law provides for equal rights, the culture has a different view as the females and their families have to be given gifts and taken care of in many ways throughout their life. The head of the family therefore feels offended. When a dialogue is initiated the head of the family recognises the need of his nephews and nieces, the affection and duty that he considers is more important and he is able to make an offer.  This step is reached only when his identity as the head of the family is acknowledged and the sister is able to express that the wishes of the group are not her identity. Giving space to consider that change is natural and altered circumstances need a different approach ensures self-determination.

Yet another factor is negation of the self and a blow on self-esteem. Want of capacity to discover personal goals and ability to align them with that of the other for cohesive living is a result of low self-esteem. The individual deals with one’s own expectations in a reactive manner perceiving denial and confrontation and lacks the courage and focus to discover his/her needs and acknowledge the need of others in the situation. This then becomes the third nail on the coffin of self-determination.

The crisis in identity at the domestic front can have social consequences as legislations which enable protection are now used to establish a group identity. Fragmentation of the social networks occurs which can lead to affecting the identity of the nation. It is incumbent on every individual in the global scene to recognize cultural, socio-economic identity of the individual, society and nation to enable positive growth of the individual which will enable the economic, socio-politic of the nation. To move from factors that contribute to fragmentation, it is imperative that we understand individual beliefs and consequences of moral standards established by the group. 

Belief about the others and belief about what others think of the individual are also factors that strengthen expectations. Nicklas Luhmann classifies expectations as:

·       Normative: determination not to learn from disappointments

·       Cognitive: social learning from disappointments

The longing to forge ahead to get to what one thinks is the goal, prevents the person from understanding the causes that lead to the consequences that he/she has to face. This is often due to the gap between knowing and doing. This gap is energized by expectations and the thought process which fails to acknowledge the options available. To reduce the gap between knowing and doing there is a need to pause and be an observer of the situation. Understanding that how one sees a situation need not be how others see it, focusing on what has to be ‘seen’ and enabling ability to change the sub-conscious can lead to sakshi bhava or observer attitude. This then leads to a discriminative, dispassionate, disciplined way of thinking that leads to desire to be free from entanglements of the web of unneeded thoughts.

One has to learn to negotiate with the self to negotiate with others. Accepting that life is not dormant, it is full of variety, change and mystery or factors that cannot be challenged,  will enable the thought that demand/entitlement projection is not natural. To rise above the gravitational pull of the wants of the self one has to Learn to observe how

1.     Expectations and reasons for avoiding situations and people and demands based on perceived rights bring about dissonance,

2.     irrational beliefs which lead to  behaviour which is self sabotaging and preventing finding true identity need to be challenged entitlements cloud focus and retrograde actions.

Once there is an acknowledgment of the need for identifying motivating factors/beliefs there will be scope for understanding the power of self-determination,

Thomas Paine said: “A declaration of rights is by reciprocity a declaration of duties also. Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another, and so it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.” It is therefore essential to first understand that expectations cannot gain force without acknowledgment of duties and right of the other, to similar expectations. This enables positive self-esteem and ability to discern, disassociate and develop the discipline for accountability. Self-determination is a natural step then as equipoise sets in.



Uma Ramanathan

Uma Ramanathan, Advocate, Mediator, and Mediator Trainer. She is also the Organising Secretary of the Tamilnadu Mediation and Conciliation Centre, High Court, Madras. She practiced as an advocate in the High Court Madras, Tamilnadu, India for 29 years. She has been practicing as a Mediator since 2005 and training mediators… MORE >

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