Some thoughts on Disappointment….

I wrote most of this about 5 years ago–but it still holds true and has always been helpful for me–so I’m including it here…

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Anyway…

Recently, I got to thinking about the idea of disappointment.. and what it all entails…

…and turning my thinking loose on the topic.. and shifting perspectives a couple of times.. it came to me that disappointment is a very interesting kind of thing…

Normally.. disappointment implies a sense of negativity.. i.e. when we are disappointed in something, it is because that something (which is often someone) has frustrated or failed our desires and expectations…

Looking at that definition–which is pretty much the one given in the Oxford English Dictionary–one can actually see, however, that the process of disappointment has two major components which are open to be subjected to an evaluative process:

1. There are the actions of others/the structure of external situations; and

2. There are our expectations and desires of how these external things/situations/actions/people should be…

Normally, then, we compare the two and disappointment comes about when the expectations don’t match up with the actions.

Now.. the interesting point for me lies in the interpretations and subsequent consequences that we derive from #2…

We can.. and I think most of us do (most of the time) experience the feeling of disappointment in a very outward-projecting sense.. i.e. we become disappointed with something/someone and that causes us to project negative feelings in that direction…

However… looking back at the actual process of disappointment–we see that a perfectly valid (and at least sometimes more productive) interpretation of the comparing that we do would be to reconsider what our expectations and desires of the external world should be…. i.e. it is not necessarily a given that we should privilege our own desires and expectations over the external realities of situations/objective facts/others actions…

Yet, I wonder how often we do this… Is it something that certain people do more than others? Is it a personality kind of thing? An upbringing kind of thing? Is it situationally dependent? Is it culturally dependent..

Fascinating for me is the idea of how language at its very root might play into this…

Here’s where I will get all etymological on your asses…

In English–we use the word “disappoint” to describe this feeling/situation/process..

Disappoint derives from the French word desappointer–which further derives from early french/latin roots of “dis” and “appoint”… “Dis” is related to “duo” and literally means “in two”–i.e. to come apart/ to be apart/asunder/etc.. to split… “appoint” literally meant “to bring to a point/to bring matters to a point” which came to mean to agree/settle/arrange things in a definite order…

Thus.. the very word that we use in english to describe this process literally means “something that rips asunder the ordered arrangement that was formerly there.” This literal definition, in my view, has a certain bias towards viewing the external agents of our disappointment in a negative manner… i.e. these external agents are the instigators of change and this change is usually a alteration of an instance of order that we held dear to our hearts.. (i.e. our desires & expectations)..

okay.. up to this point..one might say.. so what.. it’s just a word…and it is here that I will switch over to another language to twist the cognitive/linguistic mental knife…

Of course.. that language would be German.. In German, the word for “to disappoint” is enttaeuschen (where the ae is actually an “a” with an umlaut over it)…
Anyway.. the etymology of enttaeuschen breaks down as follows “ent” is a prefix that implies separation or opposition.. and is related to the word “anti” way back when… “Taeuschen,” however is quite a different word than “appoint”.. Taeuschen is the german word for “to deceive–to speak or act in a deceptive manner”…

Thus.. the German word for “disappoint” actually literally means “to remove the deception”.. which is startlingly different in meaning than the literal English meaning. In german, to be disappointed means that things have been made clear to you in the sense that your expectations of events have been shown to be false…

This, in my mind, presents one with a very different view on the process of “disappointment”… Instead of focussing our attention on how the other has destroyed our desires and expectations.. we are forced to confront that we held incorrect expectations about the external world… It pushes us, at least in some sense, to be more introspective rather than pushing blame off onto the other…

So… next time your desires and expectations are frustrated, everyone, consider whether it would be more accurate to describe the reaction as one of disapointment.. or of Enttaeuschung.

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About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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