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"Now, I return to this young fellow. And the communication I have got to make is, that he has great expectations." ...Charles Dickens, from his novel Great Expectations

A co-worker recently told me that he has lately had a much better attitude on the job. I asked him why and he said "Because my expectations were too high." He expected perfection in everything. If he fixed a problem, he assumed we would never see that problem again, that his boss would notice and give him a raise, and that the company we work for would eventually reach a state of Nirvana where its employees would spend the day congratulating each other and attending seminars to teach other companies how to succeed.  

OK, he didn't say the last part, but because I have no training in psychology, physiology, sociology, industrial engineering or French literature, I am as qualified as any motivational speaker to assert that he is a perfectionist.

He did say the stuff about expecting too much. I never suffered that affliction about my work - expecting too much - but I do expect that all licensed drivers know how to negotiate a 4-way stop, an expectation that is repeatedly and consistently dashed whenever I drive around town.

Here's why: we are all going to die.

Every day, there are Americans reaching the age of 16 or 18, or otherwise finding themselves qualified to take the test for their driver licenses. A few of those people are stupid. A few are reckless. A lot are self-absorbed and don't comprehend that laws and rules apply every time, even when you didn't see the other car approaching the intersection. The DMV can't really test for things like selfishness or distractedness or stupidity, although one could argue that they must be able to test for indifference and hostility. How else do they hire so many hostile and asympathetic  people? But I am steering off course. Here's the point: by the time the stupid and reckless drivers finally learn how to proceed through a 4-way stop, they are close to death and have been replaced by new stupid and reckless drivers.

Our only hope as a society is to improve the design of the 4-way stop. Hence, that marvel of traffic engineering, the MENSA entry exam of motoring - the roundabout. That's progress. The complexity of going right in a circle to turn left makes us all suddenly appreciate and grasp the simple elegance of the 4-way stop sign. All of a sudden, we get it, just like we all became experts on using a VCR now that 3D HD DVR Satellite TV with 300 channels is here.

"The American People" is a phrase that describes a concept, but not an actual set of people, because by the time you say "The American People", some of the people who were alive at "The" are dead at "People", and lots more were born between "A" and "merican". It is the nature of society that we take two steps forward and 1.9 steps back.

Sure, I can complain that I have to march through a cloud of tobacco smoke to get to the entrance of my favorite restaurant, but consider the improvement over a few years ago, when that same restaurant's only concession to non-smokers was to designate 3 tables in the middle of the dining room as the "non-smoking section". Now the whole interior is non-smoking. The exterior is enveloped in a perpetual, carcinogenic fog, but that's progress.

So when you're feeling like Obama=Bush or Webb=Breitbart, just relax, take a deep breath, and lower your expectations. It will help. It will help you see that we have made progress. Also, buy some new technology. It will make you appreciate where we were.

Krugman IS God. That's an axiom.

Recipe for Braised Pelican in the comment section. (Not really. This is a test. Lower your expectations.)

Originally posted to Giles Goat Boy on Wed Jul 28, 2010 at 09:48 AM PDT.

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