It may be wrong to presume that expectation and hope are unique to humans. Observing animals shows they have expectations, the primates at least are likely to have hope too. Until recently animals were not even thought of having intelligence or emotions. They had instincts nothing else, even when their cries of pain and their expression of pleasure were telling a different story. Pet owners always insisted that their pets were far more than just instinct driven but who took them seriously? Fortunately, this is changing. Unfortunately, the endeavor to explore animal cognition and behavior, let alone their mind is more difficult than to investigate humans. So let us talk about us, our hopes and expectations! What are they? Why do we have them?
Both deal with anticipation, meaning, they are future oriented and only future will tell if they will come true. While expectation is defined as a strong believe that something will happen or will be the case, hope is a strong wish that something will or may happen.
It can be simply illustrated by a statement like: ‘I expect many people to read this article’, in contrast to, ‘I hope many people will read the article’. Neither may in fact occur but time will tell what actually will happen.
Expectation bears more certainty than hope. It is more likely than not to get the result of what we expect, while hope may truly just be a desperate attempt to avoid falling into despair because all odds are stacked against whatever is desired.
Both are a construct of the mind, their difference due to their origin. They are like twins, but non-identical twins, though both have been sophisticated by the intellectual mind. Expectation is based on reason drawing logical conclusions from past experiences and convictions, while hope can be seen as the emotional counterpart connected with and allowing feelings to override rationality.
Tracing back the evolutionary past, an organism does not need hope to ensure its development. There is reasonable certainty, an expectation, that whatever has contributed to its progress is available, again and again. However, to diversify and specialize into different species and breeds requires a solid base on which to build on. ‘It makes sense’ literally speaking. By having a ‘platform’ from where to operate on in fact creates sense, because from safe grounds exploring and attempting modifications offers a reasonable chance that these will lead to improved survival prospects. Though it still may be a risk to change direction, alter the pathway, it is ‘calculated’ risk rather than a blind attempt in “hope” it will turn out alright. These processes occur without the need for the conscious mind. Circumstances, and sensorium, rather than intellectual thought would guide the organisms’ strive for a better life. However, to actually make the leap to the next and better strategy cannot solely be explained as being incidental or accidental. There is an initiative present that nurtures progress, and an exchange of information that provides efficient numbers to participate, then memorizing the success to pass it on to the next generation. Otherwise no development or evolution could take place. It is the rudimentary biological intelligence, crude with humble beginnings snowballing into the avalanche that our mind is with an unstoppable momentum, except circumstances interfere. What is biologically evident is translated or transformed and refined, becoming the mental platform with its mental functioning, executively first, followed by the abstract, a sublimation process that is naturally ongoing and as said before with no end in sight except new conditions arise. Our biological origin is ruler and guide, undergoing refinement in the process, breeding its own specialty.
Hope is not biologically necessary but it is emotionally. Losing hope lets people struggle and they may not want to live. It is therefore reasonable to state that expectation and hope are biological and emotional tools to keep us alive and encourage our progress.
Expectations are logical and in standing with the rational. Hope is illogical or irrational, in standing with the emotional. Therefore we are far more disappointed when something we expect does not happen. It is less an issue with hope. Most likely everyone has experienced betrayal some when in life, trusting somebody to keep a promise, or a deal was broken against all reassurances, or one was exploited instead rewarded by friends, employers, governments. Hearts may have been shattered, bodies hurt and minds twisted because there was a strong believe that the other party would behave the way they said they would or should anyway. We expect day to follow night, the sun to rise and that we wake up every morning. Rarely does it occur to us that actually none of it may happen, because most likely it does. But if we actually cannot trust nature’s benevolence, how can we trust humans that they will adhere to what is expected of them? For that reason, rules are set as guidelines to provide the best reassurance and protection. These may become laws that cannot or should not be broken, though of course they do get broken never the less. Nature has its laws, society creates their own and humans have a conscience that dictates an individual’s own ‘internal laws’. The extent of the consequences when they get broken depends on how powerful the laws are. In any case it means suffering or even death.
Feeling devastated if our expectations are not met may lead to despair, and not everyone is able to cope with the pain that comes with it. If then hope does not come to the rescue with the prospect of a possible, if not remote turnaround some people may want to end their life.
Hope is a rescuer. It does not matter that it is irrational. Anyway, our rational mind cannot claim to be of better value than our emotionality can. We tend to think that because being emotional is irrational it is therefore negative, but that is an interpretation rather than a judgment on value. True, we may make hasty decisions when we are emotional that may not serve us well, though at times it does. True, hope may have no realistic base that could give us any reassurance for the future, but a positive outcome cannot be excluded either. Anything is possible! As good as certainties and expectations can unravel as good can the unexpected take place. Emotionality only has a bad reputation, it is never the less valuable. It is in fact questionable to generalize with such statements. Just remember, often enough is a “gut feeling” telling us what we should do or what to expect and we do not listen only to learn that it would have been better if we had. Our mind can be misleading and expectations can be irrational as well. Our mind may also get too occupied with the to and fro of our rationalizing thoughts. It is fair to say we can trust our emotions as good as we can trust our mind or neither of them. Both have equal value. We just are not very good in using them. We are either too emotional or too intellectual, none serving us too well.
The human mind has become lopsided, favoring rationality. It brings the problem of narrowing our perspectives, judgment and quality of life. Naturally, all our achievements would have been impossible had the human race not put the emphasis on intellect, but it allowed to override our intuitive, emotional functioning, calling them, correctly though irrational, but sticking a negative label to it as if only the rational mind was trustworthy. To place the two into opposing corners means battle that is not only useless but also endless. Rationality against emotion is like the fight of two giants. The winner, at present is the executive mind, though it is not in the best interest of humans in the long run. Humans are actually the victims without realizing it. They have lost control because man is not the ring master as he is supposed to be. If humans really want to become winners they need in fact the combination of the two working together, rationality and emotion, no lopsidedness or overemphasis on either. We still can enjoy and indulge in one or the other, but do so in awareness of their limitations.
Is there a way to avoid getting caught in expectations? No, because it would make life far too complicated to always have to do the ‘math’s’ before we make decisions and go about our business. In fact, our brains would not cope and nothing would get done. We have to accept the unexpected can happen and that expectations can also be irrational. However, we better remind ourselves and teach our children that expecting too much or too little from self or others is definitely unhealthy and self-defeating. Be reasonable indeed! Expectations are helpful and are an integral part of our life, but only in the right context and within their limitations.
Do we ever lose hope? No! Even if someone wants to end his life, because this life seems to be or is unbearable, there is hope. Hope that ending one’s life will be the end of suffering. However, it may or may not be so.
Yes, hope is irrational. But there is no false hope. Hope cannot be right or wrong. It is a wish, right or wrong does not apply. It is our mind that obsesses about moral. Be sensible indeed! Hope is the light of the lighthouse that guides us through the darkness of our mind and raging emotions but it may only bring us to safety if we choose clear action instead self-deception. To expect rescue only because we see the light is an irrational expectation. The boat can still sink before reaching safe shores.
As expectation and hope rely on the future for confirmation of what will happen to expect paradise or that there is nothing after death may or may not come true either. But there is always hope, isn’t it? How Irrational! And yet, how wonderful, indeed!