We Can’t Expect Too Much From People (Podcast)

One big frustration we can experience in life is having unrealistic expectations of other people.  That is, we can want people to behave in ways that are just not within their desires or capabilities.  What is the best way to deal with this?  We use the example of the humanist Petrarch’s strained relationship with his son.


Brought to you by Fortress of the Mind.  This podcast is available in a variety of formats, including iTunes, Soundcloud, Google Play, and YouTube


Click here to find out more about my latest book, Sallust:  The Conspiracy of Catiline and the War of Jugurtha.

9 thoughts on “We Can’t Expect Too Much From People (Podcast)

  1. Quintus,
    I have been struggling a lot with this question, but the older I get (now 50), the more am I convinced that our first duty is to uphold the truth, where we can recognise it, before and above family bonds, friendships etc. If those who can see the truth, which usually are only a few and in limited aspects of life, do not fight for it, who will? I’d be surprised if Petrarca were a cold man lacking in empathy and love for his son. I’d rather think he cared very much for him and never gave up holding a mirror in front of him in the hope that he would turn into a virtuous person. I would add to “don’t expect too much of people” that we have a duty to fight for the truth in the hope that we choose the right battles (i.e. the people in whom we can have an impact – and shun the rest). Isn’t that the only way how a better society could emerge from small virtuous nuclei?
    Curious to hear your thoughts and I enjoy a lot your work, Wolfgang

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right. Petrarca was not a cold man: in fact he was filled with idealistic love. He wrote reams of poetry and prose of idealized love sentiment for a woman named “Laura,” for example. I don’t believe he did anything wrong to his son. But sometimes, at certain periods of mens’ lives, reconciliation is not possible. It takes time for some things to solve themselves. Unfortunately, the son died at an early age of the plague, and this prevented any reconciliation.


  2. This one is tough. I struggle with it from both sides, as a parent, and as a son. What are the obligations of a child to their parents?

    One must agree that having a child is a choice, and just like you can’t predetermine the sex (yet), you can’t predetermine the success of a child (yet). You must accept the chances of the child being a failure, or better phrased: ‘not as hoped’. There’s a chance the child could be disabled, diseased, prone to criminality, of a different sexual orientation, not interested in reproduction, etc… For example, my mother has said in plain terms that my brother (35) is a ‘failure’ because he hasn’t married and had children. Is that the obligation of my brother to my parents? Was that the deal he signed up for when he was conceived? I think not, that was the deal my mother decided for herself when she choice to conceive. She’s on the hook for however it turns out. There was always a chance he wouldn’t be interested in starting a family.

    I think the same goes for Petrarch. His scholarly pursuits, his choice. Life in the public eye, his choice. Reproduce (outside of wedlock), his choice. Raise his son in the public eye, his choice. There was always a chance it would not turn out as hoped. Ignoring the chance it would turn out the way it did, his choice. That’s the source of his anguish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chad,
      Yes, I agree, this cuts right to the bone of life. This problem is the hardest thing a man can face. I’m not a parent, so I can never fully appreciate exactly what it’s like. But I do deal with clients, and while the comparison is not the same, it is at least relevant. The real tragedy is that Petrarch did not really do anything wrong. He only tried to be the best father he could be. Likely his son Giovanni had emotional or other issues that the father was not capable of handling. And this gets to the heart of what I was saying: the real tragedy here is that BOTH son and father have their perspectives. And both are valid. The tragedy of this issue is that sometimes, no matter how hard we want to solve a problem, we can’t solve it.


  3. Another stark and timely reminder for me Q.

    I feel that you and your readers are of a slightly different disposition. You have the courage to change, especially if proved wrong and this allows you to better yourself. Many will not. Admitting that we are inadequate is a bitter pill to swallow, one that most will not admit.

    Currently this mirrors why own situation somewhat, where you are completely correct that both parent and child have a shared responsibility. For example with respect to myself, my parents have a responsibility to allow me to pursue my own calling, even if it now means giving up a lucrative career. However it is my responsibility to prove to them that I achieve what I set out to do and not disgrace my parents by living a life of degeneracy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can certainly empathize with your remark on not expecting too much of clients (my business is webshops) 🙂 But honestly, I think your podcast struck a chord with me exactly because you talk about the father-son relationship and I have a toddler son, my only child. My spouse and I have been talking about how he will be when he grows up and, implicitly, what to expect of him. Not much, but enough to make me think about it from time to time … what if he somehow is a ‘disappointment’? What if he overall and generally behaves in ways that I just feel are not right? I am not exactly sure what it could be.

    But it is there in my mind, and comes up from time to time: What if he becomes a bully at school? What if he drinks in secret as a teen or steals something? What if he just loafs around like a young adult, instead of trying to set some kind of course? Some of these examples are very theoretical, I feel. I just can’t imagine him becoming a bully, for example. Or stealing. But you never know… I believe in a combo of nature and nurture, so he might get into some problems later on no matter how well my spouse and I try to raise him. And once he becomes a young adult all bets are off. Heck, they certainly were with me, when I think about how confused my 20-30 decade was in selecting jobs, education and so on (I am 43 now.)

    I think a part of the worry is natural and should just be ignored, just like the thought of what happens if he somehow is in a traffic accident or whatever. There are always extreme scenarios that can and will haunt our minds, for what may happen, and they are, as said, natural but should not be given too much power. It is also good to remember that, as you mentioned, people do a lot of things as children and as youths that aren’t necessarily indicative for how they will act in life as mature adults. I tell myself I will remember this, but I am sure I will forget on some occasions. Even so it is worth reiterating here.

    Then there are the sneaky value-based expectations, like about what he wants to do with his life and work-life when he becomes old enough for that to be relevant. I had very high ideals for my own work life (and for my artwork which today is just a hobby), and none of them really came to fruition. I have tried to be very clear with myself that I will not project these ideals onto him (like: get a university education – go help the world or get an otherwise ‘important job’). If he wants to drive a truck, then that is really fine – even if he displays abilities for more. Or that is at least what I tell myself, but I do know in my heart that I will be a little disappointed in such a scenario. (Not in the least because it is not a smart choice – with all the automated vehicles set to appear in traffic in the next few decades 🙂

    I think maybe it is helpful that we are relatively old parents and that I have gone through an evolution myself with regard to how I value the company of other people. In my early 20s for example I really did not like family get-togethers. I was always focused on how the other members of my family talked about “boring things” and all their little faults (imagined or otherwise). As I grow older I have begun to really look for what we share and what I appreciate in various family members, instead of focusing on what sets us apart. It just works better. I don’t try to sweep big differences under the rug, but I don’t give them too much power either – e.g. political differences.

    I believe that lesson at least can help me if my son doesn’t choose a “smart” career or makes some other lifestyle choice later on that really upsets me. But time will have to put that belief (and promise to myself) to the test. In such cases I really benefit from being reminded of how it should be with our expectations, because I am not always that good at remembering my promises to myself, esp. when emotions run high.

    So thanks again for this podcast. You have an absolutely fantastic blog (I love the ‘eclectic’ blogs more than anything else). I look seriously forward to reading it and listening to your YT-channel more in the weeks and months to come. Quality is rare – not at least on the ‘net.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.