Low Expectations

Originally Published at Modern Mormon Men on 10/3/2014

From The Simpsons episode 72 "Selma's Choice" (21 January 1993)
From The Simpsons episode 72 “Selma’s Choice” (21 January 1993)

I recently watched an excerpt of Charlie Rose’s interview of Bill Maher in which they discussed the looming threat of terrorism sponsored by radical Islam.  Maher said something so provocative that I had to listen to it several times and then review the transcript:

“Now if they were beheading people in Vatican City, which is the equivalent of Mecca, don’t you think there would be a bigger outcry about it? So this is the soft bigotry of low expectations with Muslim people. When they do crazy things and believe crazy things, somehow it’s not talked about nearly as much (source; emphasis mine).”

It was just one of those phrases that struck a cord with me.  And, although Maher has used this line before (here), it seems he’s borrowed it from an unlikely source: his avowed archenemy President George W. Bush.* Talk about irony!

Now you may think this post will go on to rant about the scourge of radical Islam.  Not today.  Instead, I’m struck with how universal the soft bigotry of low expectations has become in our everyday world.  President Bush originally used this phrase in his 2000 speech to the NAACP shortly after assuming office. He was illustrating the need for the Republican Party to mend fences with the NAACP and address issues of discrimination and racism that still exist in this country. But this example is just the tip of an iceberg of scenarios in which this rhetoric could be applied.

Think about society’s current expectations for restraining profanity, immodesty and overtly sexual imagery and messaging. The expectation of respectful or courteous treatment by others, trustworthiness of strangers and the public sense of common decency is almost non-existent. We are programmed to expect tantrums from children that don’t get their way and infidelity from spouses.  We expect dishonesty and corruption from politicians and the media who cover them. After all, its just politics, right? We are told that the key to personal happiness is to lower our expectations of ourselves and others.  If you don’t, you’ll just be disappointed. It all begs the question: when will it end?

In contrast, take a look at how our Church has revised expectations of its members.  Start by taking another look at The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Review how the Church’s expectations regarding chastity and moral cleanliness have changed since the sexual revolution. Finally, consider the changes in levels of commitment in terms of time, money and heart that is required of members of the Church. In the face of society’s rush to the bottom, we find our Church clinging to standards that are increasing old fashioned.

Legitimate problems arise from unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others–there’s just no getting around this. We have to expect that on our best day we all will still fall short.  But the answer, contrary to popular belief, is not just lowering the bar. When every kid gets a trophy, it’s all smiles at first. But it doesn’t take long for everyone to recognize the devaluation of trophies that this practice creates. It is refreshing to spend time with people that honestly believe and teach that we are capable of much, much more.

Undoubtedly, there will be days when we have our share of disappointments from dashed expectations. The essence of the Gospel is the ability to love and nurture those that fall short of lofty standards. The things that make this possible are faith in the Lord and hope in the power of His atonement to lift us over a bar that is set very high.

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* George W. Bush’s speechwriter at this time was Michael Gerson and he is generally credited with coming up with this phrase.

 

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