Wednesday, March 26, 2008

spd's Big Book of Little Disappointments

Disappointment, when it involves neither shame nor loss, is as good as success; for it supplies as many images to the mind, and as many topics to the tongue.
Samuel Johnson, Letter to Hester Thrale, Jun. 26, 1775.

I learned early in life which words I dreaded most to hear my father speak. They were words never spoken harshly or in raised voice, but whose force was such that you felt the air leave the room. “I am very disappointed in you.” If Dad ever followed up on those words with an “I hope you learned your lesson” or an “I expect more from you next time,” I never heard it. What mattered was that his state of being was “disappointed,” and that I knew that no artful dodge, no plaintiff wail or act of contrition could ever undo it. Oh, I knew that Dad’s disappointment in me was only temporary. He still loved me. He only he wished I wasn’t such a complete idiot sometimes. But my memory of the power those words prevents from uttering them aloud…at least to my own kids.

Life's disappointments are as varied as the landscape- the juvenile creek of “They promised it would snow last night!” winds through the vain woods of “the Smiths didn’t send us a Christmas card” to join the great river of broken hearts on its way to the sea of ... um... metaphors. Irrespective of its personal magnitude, however, every disappointment exposes two basic human flaws; the first being the reliance on our own expectations (“I screwed up, I trusted you”), and the second being the inability to correctly anticipate the expectations of others (“You screwed up, you trusted me”). Note that in both cases the blame cast is bi-directional. (The corollary to this is the equally human phenomena of being pleased. Both require the surprise that comes from misplaced expectations.)

It is this human capacity for misjudging expectation that sets disappointment apart from mere annoyance. Flies are annoying. Humans are disappointing. For example: Being served a cup of lousy coffee in a Waffle House is an annoyance, but it’s also not unexpected. The waitress at the Waffle House will probably get you another cup of coffee if you ask (nicely), but it will still taste like crap. No harm, no foul. Order some orange juice. Get that same lousy cup of coffee at the end of a four-figure meal, however, and you’re both annoyed and disappointed. You’re annoyed that the coffee tastes like sewage, but you’re disappointed that the restaurant would diminish the excellent meal you just enjoyed by serving you crappy coffee. The waitress will surely brew a new pot for you, and the manager may send over a free dessert, but your disappointment will linger because you expected better from the humans.

Why bother with disappointments? Why not? The name of this blog is “Heigh-ho,” after all. And I’m to blame (at least halfway) for every disappointment I’ve ever experienced. Plus, the only alternative is to lower my expectations. Where's the fun in that?

So, over the next few weeks and/or months, I am going to be collecting your Little Disappointments here at Heigh-ho, and letting you in on a few of my own. Don't be shy about it, friends. Share so that maybe we can all avoid a few unnecessary disappointments in our future. Or at least recognize them for what they are.....your fault.

Where to start?

How about with the letter “A?”


camojack said...

"A" for antithesis...because seeing that you've posted something new was anything but a disappointment.

portia said...

After months of hoping that my out-of-date BB would die from exhaustion or that I would lose it in the backseat of a taxi so I could trade up, I was finally upgraded yesterday to the new slim. lightweight BlacKBerry Curve. I hate it. The screen is too small, the buttons are in the all the wrong places, it's too skinny, and I despise the rolling ball. I miss my old clunker that had enough heft not to get lost, and keys big enough to ignore my creeping presbyobia.

I'm disappointed that my old model stopped working.
Mostly, I'm disapointed that I dropped it in the sink. On purpose.

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Anonymous said...

Couple of years late...

A for Accidental. As in, I have a penchant for accidentally falling in love with people I can't pursue or whatever the kids call it. Each time a new and novel disappointment. My fault, of course, as you so rightly.