Monday, September 17, 2012

Expectations and Badger Football

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityby Josh Kiel

I've touched on this before, but there's a mental process I go through between August and mid-September every year pertaining to my Saturday entertainment prospects. This is my seasonal evaluation of the Wisconsin Badger football beginning with late summer anticipation and continuing with preseason expectations and early season predictions.

I've decided this won't be a particularly good season for Badger football and that I'll need to find other venues for worthwhile entertainment on my fall Saturday's. It's not that I know the Badgers will have a bad season, I just predict they will. There's a set pattern that I've used to arrive at this prediction which I use so often to arrive at so many predictions in life.

Initially there's anticipation. In this instance, the late summer knowledge that fall and all of its wonderful benefits will soon arrive. My desires for the season include the cooler weather, the changing of the leaves, the arrival of the best styles of beer, and the hope that the Wisconsin Badgers can put together a great season that will lead to them playing in a BCS bowl game. I even have the hope that they could buck trends and win such a bowl game.

None of those things had yet arrived in late summer though so all I'm left with is the building anticipation. As the anticipation is building, events come around which develop those anticipations into expectations.

When the first cool days occur and the autumnal selections arrive at my bar of choice my expectations for fall begin developing. When the preseason rankings were released and Wisconsin was ranked 12th in the nation my expectations were built even further. With that reinforcement my expectations became high, Rose Bowl or better, and I began to expect stellar blowout performances in the first few games as the teams they were playing should have been easy pickings.

At this point the hopes are still high since I have no reason not to expect great things from my collegiate team of choice, but reality does not play to the scripts in our minds and my expectations, I was soon to discover, were far too high.

My beloved Badgers opened the season with a narrow win of 26-21 over Northern Iowa. For those not familiar with college football, as a general rule, teams with directional indicatiors in their names tend to be second or third rate and should be an easy victory for a major conference team like Wisconsin.

While this close game was concerning I wasn't totally disheartened as Wisconsin does sometimes take a little while to develop a rhythm in the first game. The following week sounded the death knell for my predictions of success, a 10-7 loss to Oregon State. It is now obvious that the team is not producing results at the level necessary to meet my prior expectations. The third weeks narrow win against Utah State only furthered my conviction that a lackluster season is before us. Now that I'm forced to lower my expectations to coincide with the reality of the results and I can't help but develop an unenthusiastic prediction for the remainder of the season.

I'm predicting that Wisconsin will finish 7-5. I also predict that this may be optimistic even for pessimism. Expectations are either upheld or disappointed depending upon results and as a rational human being I can't help but draw conclusions. Given, only 3 of 12 games have been played and they may win all of the remaining nine. That does not fit with my new lowered expectations. Predictions help us to expect future outcomes and accept them more readily.

I've come to notice I make predictions about most things in life, often pessimistically. There are a myriad number of pending outcomes in my life which are all in one phase or another of this process.

My prediction's for life are often ones of material comfort and social and spiritual dissatisfaction. Indeed they are not the most optimistic, and most would call them pessimistic.

If I'm honest this is because I can control myself absolutely, and thus control my material comfort, while I cannot control how others react to me thus leading to social and spiritual dissatisfaction, so I'm less optimistic.

Control is a primary concern for our entire culture. We crave control and do what we can to maintain it. It's my opinion that my pessimism is merely a form of taking control of the negative. If I mentally prepare myself for the worst anything can offer then I will be given a reprieve from the fallen world that we find ourselves in.

Perhaps pessimism is a way of deceiving ourselves, if we expect the terrible and only the mildly displeasing happens it may seem to be comparatively good in the end. The level of pessimism is also comparative to the stakes involved. If I'm overly optimistic about the prospects of Wisconsin football, I'll be mildly disappointed. On the other hand, If I'm overly optimistic about the course my life will take I may end up emotionally crushed at many points during the duration of it. This is the security of pessimism.

The college football season is roughly a quarter of the way in, but I've already established my expectations, similarly my life is about a third complete, but I have firmly held expectations about it as well. For me life is an endless cycle of anticipation, expectation, and adjusting expectation into prediction once enough data has been gathered. For me it is a way to maintain comfort and control. Whether the predictions are good or bad I am prepared for what I consider to be the most probable outcome of events and in being prepared I can accept them more easily.

Editor's note: I can understand the frustration Josh voices in this essay, and I think it's a feeling a lot of us experience. In the face of failure, pain, sadness, or disappointment, often occurring in situations that are beyond our control, we try to (re)claim control of our lives and assert power over our own destiny. However, I think the story of the Christian faith is one that disabuses us of this notion. I think we learn from the Christian story that the only proper use of control or power is to surrender it. Perhaps this will lead to happiness, or perhaps it will lead to more pain, I can't promise anything, but I think it leads to peace.

Josh and I would both love to hear any feedback you have or even just a quick note to say that something resonated with you.


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