The Death of Unspoken Expectations

Remember when you knew you could count on a few things?

Why is a twenty dollar bill worth anything?

It has value, the assigned value of twenty dollars, because we all, as a collective, choose to view that slip of paper as being worth something.

For societies to exist, much less thrive, citizens have to “buy” in.

We all have to agree. We have to decide we want printed slips of paper instead of beaver pelts or a third of your corn crop.

What if tomorrow we all decided that our money wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on? What if we cast aside the concept of paper currency?

Would chaos reign? What if we didn’t tell everyone? What if only some of us decided to no longer join in on the implicit pretending?

In the past decade or two, we have seen an erosion in the foundation of our unspoken agreements — a new generation that isn’t buying in, the way previous generations have.

I remember a time when you could count on something. It was unspoken, but accepted by the majority. You could count on effort from others, equal to your own.

You could expect, if a car parked too closely to your own in a parking lot — that the driver would be careful opening their door.

You could expect, if you went to a fast food restaurant, despite the fact that the job wasn’t glamorous or desirable that the employees would still try a little.

You could expect, if you took a loved one to the hospital, that you didn’t have to research in advance to find the “good” hospital because all hospitals have doctors and they will all try their best to care for their patients.

This didn’t mean everything was perfect.

But the unspoken agreement guaranteed they were trying.

These things didn’t have to be discussed or said out loud. They were understood.

You could know I’m going to do my best on something and I could expect the same minimum threshold from you.

What has changed? Are we just not decent people anymore? Are parents and mentors failing to teach children things that were once fundamental? Have core concepts like good manners, doing your best, the importance of character, ethics, etc. gone by the wayside?

Is it too late? Can we still have unspoken expectations? Or do we have to push and prod, double-check everything, cynically expect the worst?


I hope not.

The road to ruin is paved in good intentions. But maybe the path back to taking pride in your work and treating others as you would want to be treated is paved in simple kindness for others.

If we slow down a little. Take a minute to see beyond our little bubble. Maybe we can get back there. Until then the questions remain —

When the unspoken agreement that members of a society have, is LOST — where does that leave us? How can we be sure of anything?
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