Years ago, MAD TV once featured a sketch called “Lowered Expectations” for unattractive people looking for romance. Although the term “lowered expectations” cloaks a thinly veiled insult and implies a level of deficiency, the phrase blanketed the recent news cycle. Evidently, the push is on for the American people to lower their expectations about conditions in the country under the Biden administration.
When it comes to the job performance of elected officials and government employees, Americans maintain a lengthy history of paradoxical beliefs. Despite demanding high standards from our officials, we also believe significant numbers operate at a substandard level.
Failure serves as a staple of the human condition – as does the compulsion to deflect from failure. Adam and Eve both modeled those imperfections, and billions continue to repeat the cycle. The wise understand the systemic flaw in human character, while the foolish seem compelled to touch the electric fence for themselves - repetitively.
Yet as a nation, Americans seem attracted to people who own their failures rather than lie, deflect or ask for lower standards. Americans love those who avoid blaming others while refusing to quit.
From sports to the performing arts to sciences, failure and missteps are hallmarks of the journey to success. Yet disappointments and mistakes provide texture and teaching for achievement. At no point has anyone thoughtfully stated, “Whew, I sure learned that the easy way!”
Work, sacrifice, focus, and discipline lead to accomplishment. For those clinging to excuses, political spin flourishes in the presence of failure. Lowered expectations insult achievement. Ask any Paralympic athlete.
In a behind-the-scenes featurette, Marvel Studios shared the story of casting Robert Downy, Jr. as Iron Man. Mr. Downey’s choice caused anxiety in more than a few film executives. Yet director Jon Favreau did not lower expectations for Robert Downey, Jr. based upon the actor’s well-publicized missteps. Nor did Robert Downy Jr. ask for lowered expectations.
By refusing to reduce the standard, Jon Favreau and Robert Downey, Jr. accomplished the extraordinary.
Americans love those kinds of stories.
For more than a generation, however, the lowered expectations in our country continue to cripple society. From schools to diversity hiring, we choose attributes over achievements. Merit matters – as do standards. Participation trophies rarely sit on the mantle.
Each time the bar lowers, people meet it – mainly, it seems in the halls of power.
Sadly for the country, customized lighting for favorable politicians replaced the equally applied glaring light of scrutiny. Journalists seem eager to provide an echo chamber (and a “hyperbolic chamber”) for groupthink rather than examining and challenging deeds and consequences. Pointing to the agenda rather than the standards causes both to suffer.
Theodore Roosevelt’s warning echoes through history, “The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”
With the push to lower expectations, we see another example of those who refuse to be honest with themselves and others. Acceptance of failure does not mean approval. The whisper of wisdom involves candid conversations about actions without excuses about reality.
Americans now must choose whether to lower expectations, maintain them, or even raise them. The steeper the hill, the greater need for an honest assessment from those attempting the climb.
One of the greatest coaches in sport’s history, John Wooden, stated, “Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them, and your foes won’t believe them.”
America’s foes daily watch the softening of this great nation – and America’s friends require competent leadership from Washington. The disastrous pullout from Afghanistan, declining test scores for students, and shipping logistics nightmares illuminate the consequences of lowered expectations. Even the vaccine debates suffer when mandating Americans’ shots but “lowering the expectations” for those crossing the border illegally.
Owning failure breeds success and growth. Lowering expectations breeds excuses.
Political spin rarely subdues performance criticism. The call for lowered expectations reflects mediocrity – which is another way of saying, “It’s good enough for government work.”
The question remains; is it good enough for the American people?
• Peter Rosenberger is the author of Hope for the Caregiver and hosts a nationally syndicated radio program for family caregivers. www.hopeforthecaregiver.com