I recently invested a couple of hours in The Accountant. Rotten Tomatoes and audiences alike would agree that this drama is not Ben Affleck’s most impressive work. Basically, an autistic math whiz turned freelance accountant to the world’s nastiest crooks, kills dozens of people in defense of his moral code, using the martial arts and weapons skills he learned from his dad. I didn’t feel well and it helped passed my time on the couch, if I need an excuse.
Anyway, one of the last lines of the film, left totally out of context here, challenges, “But I guarantee you, if we let the world set expectations for our children, they’ll start low and they’ll stay there.” I rewound the scene and listened to the quote several times. I woke up early this morning and sat on the porch with my coffee and thought about the value of the statement. I think I’ve landed on two conclusions worth holding onto and applying in my life . . .
Watch for Little Bits of Wisdom
First, little bits of advice and coaching and understanding can exist in strange places. You anticipate collecting some kernel of knowledge or an insight about life during lunch with a colleague you respect, at Sunday Mass, or from the Dilbert calendar on the corner of your desk. There are other places where we need to be more perceptive, more open to the possibility that the experience or our surroundings can feed us food for thought.
It would be exhausting to constantly try and turn the things we see and read and hear into ultra-meaningful instructions for living well. But, maybe an open mind will let a few more of those life-shaping insights penetrate our subconscious and inform our thinking, our biases, our assumptions.
Second, the dad in the movie set odd, but high expectations for his two boys. Through a somewhat cloudy plot line, the mother leaves her family. The father, an Army officer, insists that his sons learn self-reliance and strength through martial arts and practical exercises of physical confrontation and mental anguish. Kind of a what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger approach to life, and by default parenting. Although I neither fully agree with his perspective nor the outcome of his tutelage (two trained killers), I do really like the concept of setting expectations for your kids (hell for yourself, your family, your work teams) that match your aspirations rather than simply conforming to the norms and measuring sticks of the world around us. Everyone, every situation, is unique and therefore demands unique expectations that stretch us and drive us and help us to achieve personal greatness.
I’m a pretty ambitious person who isn’t content with others setting the bar. As a parent, this is an incredibly delicate balance, but one that is important and worth considering and trying like crazy to get right. In the absence of customized, unique, personally tailored expectations, the world gets to set them. I, too, fear that they will be too low for me, my sons, our nation.
There are probably other, more explicit and artfully conceived, things that I should have collected from my time in front of the TV with The Accountant, but this is what I captured . . . watch for little bits of wisdom and set expectations. Seems like the simple act of saying those words out loud is a step in the right direction. Good luck!