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.


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7 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

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    • 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.

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    • 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.

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