Sunday, June 1, 2014

Post No. 190: The Most Dangerous of Expectations

© 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

I considered entitling this post, “In Defense of Donald Sterling, the U. S. Veterans Administration, and Malaysia Airlines." However, out of a desire to have this piece potentially relevant in a month or two, I chose to go with a more universal and hopefully enduring theme.

So what do,

(a) the unfortunate disclosure of a private conversation involving an NBA team owner and the object of his unrequited desires;

(b) the purported failure of the U.S. Veterans Administration to timely deliver health care services to a relatively small number of veterans;

(c) the continuing mystery about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370;

(d) the Washington State mudslide which killed at least 41 people, the danger of which has been known for 60 years; and

(e) the South Korean ferry accident resulting in 288 deaths

all have in common? I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Something has been bothering me since I exited the womb 62 years ago. It appears that while my Mother was pregnant with me, she read the paperback edition of Gordon Childe’s What Happened in History, all 79 pages of it. What struck me via osmosis was the discussion of two things which significantly distinguish humans from other animals.

The first is that most animals have some natural armor, skills or various mechanisms which permit them to survive in the wild, somewhat independently, early on. We humans are totally dependent upon older humans for quite some time. The second is that although we are not endowed with natural defensive skills and survival equipment from the get-go, our big brains permit us to record, teach, invent, and share (over generations) the cumulative results of the past human experience in preparation for moving forward.

So, what do all 5 events have in common? In my view, the most dangerous of expectations, namely, that “someone else will do it or take care of it.”

We exit the womb with that expectation genetically engrained. Whether the acquisition and preparation of food, our transportation to the toilet, or cleaning up our resultant mess, we start out with an expectation that someone else will do it or take care of it. That notion continues throughout our lives.

Over the past 4 months, in thinking about the 5 events listed above, there was a commonality of something which started to emerge, but on which I could not place my finger. And then it hit me.

Although I had a significantly shorter period of time to think about it compared to the first dangerous expectation, I developed an appreciation of the second dangerous expectation by being the primary caregiver for my 93 year old Father. Up until roughly 88 years of age, he was an example of exceptional, octogenarian health. He amazed everyone who came into contact with him.

Little did I suspect 5 years ago that he had a progressive, neuromuscular movement disorder. He often repeats the phrase, “Once a man, twice a child,” the truth of which I appreciate more each day. Despite the complexities associated with his care, and the fact that I have a sibling with whom to share the experience, there are many single kids who have to take care of both parents. Imagine the complexity of the V.A.’s responsibilities.

So what is this second most dangerous expectation? That someone will do it the way that we expect, or in the manner in which we want it to be done.

All of this came together for me about 3 weeks ago during a discussion about the South Korean ferry accident. A reporter noted that because of the prevalence of Confucianism in that part of the world, there is an implicit social contract between citizens and their rulers that, “We do what you ask, and we expect you to take care of us.”

Until fairly recently, I did not realize that I was entitled to Veterans Administration medical benefits, primarily because I had top flight private insurance coverage. However, I recently found myself without that privilege. I’ve been in the V.A. health system for a year now. I am convinced that I am the system’s No. 1 supporter. When I had the luxury of private insurance, I was treated by some of the best doctors in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, associated with UCLA, USC, and groups who took care of million dollar professional athletes.

I now receive comparable, if not better, health care from the V.A. Why? Because the Durham, NC facility, which is across the street from and associated with Duke University Med Center.

I’m as happy as a clam, Sam I am. In fact, there are days when I go onto the MyHealth.VA.Gov site, just to revel in the level of care and information available to me. This experience has far exceeded my expectations. I also realize that not every facility in the V.A. system is the same and not every vet will receive my level of service.

One of the pitfalls associated with focus on the individual and the pursuit of individual happiness is that we can forget that things are relative and that different people have different values. We also have a tendency to forget how interdependent humans are, which is a mercurial concept in and of itself.

A couple of years ago, former President Bill Clinton was asked to comment on the stoning of a young woman by family members in a Middle Eastern country. He opened with the phrase, “In a shame-based society….” I honestly do not recall what he said thereafter; however, since then I have repeatedly questioned whether he actually used the word “shame,” or the word “blame.”

The head of Veterans Affairs was recently pressured to resign. However, I found myself asking whether our primary goal was to address and correct the management deficiencies, or assess blame and validate our notions of responsibility.

It occurred to me that management or human governance is not that far removed from addressing cancer. Isn’t our ultimate goal in the treatment of a disease to remove its effects in the short term, and address its causes in the long? It seems to me that if we as a society are truly interested in addressing problems on a long term basis, our attention might best be directed to the underlying causes and systemic issues, recognizing the less than perfect component of human behavior, and less on fault and attributing blame.

Because the reality is that we, as humans (on an individual and collective level), are responsible for the systems we create and mismanage. No level of management can completely address that. It would be delusional and less than productive on our part to think so.


  1. Very thoughtful, my friend. One of the "dangerous expectations" was Sterling's expectation of privacy. As you know, I believe prejudice is part of our make-up as humans; part of our DNA. Sterling said things that he would not have said in public. A number of people thought he had those feelings because he was from an earlier era where such things were more common. Others refute that, saying he went through our (let's call it) "age of enlightenment"... that period of the 60's and 70's where we began to realize that there was more to society than white males. I think he thought we still had some privacy.
    And, as you know, I (I should say "Faye") took care of my mother after my father died. I had siblings but neither of them was dependable and my father (before he died) sought me out and asked me to do it. It is a journey many of us make and few of us want.
    I like to say... life strips us of dignity and then kills us.

    Not a pleasant thought, I suppose.

  2. Thank you, Douglas. I appreciate it. I must admit that I have been re-reading this post over and over for the past 24 hours. It's a bit rambling in nature, and yet I still think that there is a central core issue.

    I'll chat about caregivers of senior citizens later, but I cannot resist making a quick comment about the Donald Sterling incident, about which I was tempted to write on numerous occasions.

    What I found most troubling about the whole thing was the relative dearth of condemnation of what the young lady did. In my view, she is the far, more culpable party, and my listening of the recordings suggests a set-up and an effort to bait the 80 year old. Having practiced in California for many years, I am still flabbergasted that the recording party has not yet been prosecuted, at least not to my current knowledge.

    I had a similar feeling (namely that people were too heavily focused on criticizing certain conduct) about the Bill Clinton - Monica Lewinsky incident. There were two things which significantly bothered me about that whole scene. First, I think that he should have immediately resigned, regardless of whether the charges rose to the technical legal standard of being worthy of impeachment, simply because he was a "damaged leader" due to his own conduct, and we needed a leader. without personal distractions. However, the larger offense in my mind is that he allowed his friends and supporters to go out and support his lies, unbeknownst to them. If he had told them privately that he actually had a sexual relationship with her, that he was lying about it, but that he felt that his remaining as President was more important that fessing up, then his friends and supporters could have made intelligent, informed decisions based on that information. (I personally believe that the office is more important than the man [or woman] who occupies it.)

    I also believe that he should have placed his personal interests aside, and let Al Gore take over, which would have arguably been in the best interests of the party.

    Good to have your input again. I will endeavor to post more frequently during the coming months.

  3. As I re-read the article, I found something else to agree with (as well as the lack of prosecution regarding the recording); we are maybe not born with, but conditioned throughout our youth that someone will provide what we believe we need. That gets transferred to school (teachers and administration) and then to government, leaving us dependent on others.
    Your comments about Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal also rang true. But Bill is a political animal and did not want to give up the "prize", I think. It would have, had he resigned, given Gore a "leg up" in the 2000 election.

  4. Thanks again for your further input, Douglas. Your comments reminded me of another post I generated some time ago. I usually tweet the following on Twitter, which leads to that post:

    The Fact that Our Survival is Dependent on Decisions Made by Other People is Freaking Us Out


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