The Good the Bad and the Ugly

In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Kindest

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم



We tend to have expectations of ourselves and others. For instance, we might hold ourselves to incredibly high standards and then feel like a failure if we can’t live up to them. We may expect others to act and speak in a certain way and become annoyed and irritable when they fail to do what we expect. It is problematic to have expectations of ourselves and others because people are unpredictable and enigmatic. It leads to disappointment and anger with ourselves and those around us. 



We assume that expectations lead to excellence, but excellence doesn’t mean perfection. The best athletes and top performers make thousands of mistakes and face real setbacks. But what makes them world-class is that they embrace and learn from their failures and see them as steps on the ladder of success. It’s the cumulative effect, the sweat, blood, and tears that hone them into contenders and champions in the fullness of time. 


If we expect to do more, be more, and constantly advance, then we’ll fail to see all the wins and lessons hidden in the present. This gift is left unopened when our focus is on an imagined future or a past that didn’t turn out the way we had expected. We might be tearing ourselves down for not being enough while others see us as overachievers and marvel at how much we’re getting done. If we only had their eyes and heart! 



Expectations of others (even reasonable ones) are a type of cognitive distortion known as should statements. For instance, I believe someone should act like this or should have said that. It would be better to express one’s feelings and make a request, knowing the other party has the right to decline or present a counter offer. Open dialogue, acceptance of the situation, and psychological flexibility help us manage reasonable expectations. Otherwise, they may become a source of personal and collective malcontent. 


Sometimes conflict illuminates what we want and need. For instance, many people settle for a false peace, which overlooks institutional and interpersonal abuse, mismanagement, and oppression in the name of communal harmony. Martin Lurther King Jr. condemned “the type of peace that stinks in the nostrils of the almighty God.” When someone suggested that the bus boycott was destroying race relations and peace, he agreed to disagree: “Yes, it is true that if the Negro [accepts] his place, accepts exploitation, and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be an obnoxious peace.” 



Dr. Maya Angelou said the best piece of advice she had ever given was to her son, who was having trouble making friends. She told him two things: First, to get a friend, you have to be a friend, be ready to be a friend. Second, everyone has a sacred place in them that they must protect. So nobody has the right to curse you or mistreat you. The place where we meet God is inviolable. That is not an expectation but a universal human right. 



In a Holy Tradition, Allah says: “The heavens and earth cannot encompass me, but the heart of my believing servant can.” Learning to discern the difference between an expectation of oneself and others and inalienable rights is essential to self-preservation. It is also critical to the communal weal. 


We will never achieve lasting peace with ourselves and others if we deny, minimize, excuse, or overlook injustice, harm, and toxic behavior. Don’t expect the other person to change. Do let others know that you will not tolerate mistreatment. Your friendship is not to be treated lightly. It’s a Sacred Trust, and your heart is the Throne of God. Speak up for yourself and back it up. 


May we all treat ourselves and others gently, may we recognize when our expectations are putting unreasonable demands and pressure on ourselves and others, and may we discern between should statements and inalienable rights.


From one needy of your dua,

With love,


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