Having grown up in a very conservative Chinese environment, my first years of college saw my naive principles being bombarded with huge doses of culture shocks.
Aside from unspeakable activities that conservative people never engaged in (parties, late night drinking sessions, and unavoidable college dramas), college was full of self-realizations and huge life-changing episodes because of the different personalities I met and had the pleasure of sharing life perceptions with. One of the biggest lessons I learned during my college days was how expectation can really bring you down, that just because you treat others in a certain manner doesn’t mean that they will reciprocate in the same way.
As with a majority of people, I pursued those who I expected would reciprocate my feelings and actions. Of course, many responded in a way that didn’t really fit my expectations and I was left contemplating on how unfair the world was. I ended up becoming more cynical in my later years. As a self-professed slow learner, the lesson took a lot of repetitions before I eventually understood that different people have different perspectives, which make them unique. Expectation is basically us putting limits to how a person should react and thus limiting their freedom to be their own individuals. We objectify them by forcing them to follow our standards. It would be unfair and downright selfish for us to expect that a person should react in a positive way to whatever effort we made in the hope of them favoring us. In time, as I carved my own personality, I learned to value the uniqueness of each person and have grown to believe that restricting a person’s individuality is the root cause of dissatisfaction and resentment among human beings.
During my college days, film adaptations of comic books were something I looked forward to. One movie that really captivated me was X-men:First Class. A certain exchange between the characters, Mystique and Magneto, really stuck with me. The former had nagging doubts about her individuality, and with her mutant ability to change her appearance, she constantly tried to fit into a society that would never accept her because of her mutation. Magneto would then go on to lecture her: “You want society to accept who you are but you can’t even accept yourself.”
We believe we need to maintain a certain image to fit into society. We choose to wear masks and base our happiness on non-existent standards set by those we don’t even know, which then results in us undergoing a huge amount of conflict within ourselves. We choose to spend our time only with people who are dubbed as attractive and powerful in an effort to make ourselves look powerful as well. We no longer care if we sincerely connect with another individual as long as that person makes us look commendable. We buy things based on popularity rather than quality. As long as it’s most popular in the market, it’s on top of our list; that we could get something better at half the price never crosses our minds.
And those are just a few examples of how we live a lifestyle constantly obsessed with expectations and labels. An obsession that’s beginning to control us. Open communication is repressed and we’re more comfortable speaking in codes instead of freely stating our intent. Not only do these things limit our freedom to be ourselves, but also create a constant fear of being judged by others with the same dilemma in life.
Human beings need their individuality to be able to feel that they are real. It is a person’s right to be able to freely define who they believe they are. Defining this right through labels unconsciously creates chaos within people, thus leading to dissatisfaction in their lives with the constant nagging thought that tells them they are not themselves. It’s high time we give up our expectations on how people should act regardless of gender, skin color or nationality. It’s time we open our minds and respect another person’s infinite potential. Personally, I do believe that once these principles come into play, we will remove a huge weight from our shoulders and develop a more sincere relationship with the people around us.
Photo: Luisa Nicole Sy