As with everyone, the economic impacts of inflation have been near the front of my mind for some months now. In a very particular way this was felt in relationship to the housing market: my husband and I bought our home in pre-pandemic 2020 and my parents recently bought a new home a couple zip codes away from us in late-stage pandemic 2021. The inflation of housing prices in the intervening 18 months has been astounding, even by California standards.
I notice it in our monthly expenses, in the price for our groceries and other consumables. I’ve seen the uptick in required regulatory notices in our mailbox the past few weeks as our utility and waste management providers are seeking approval to increase their rates from the appropriate government oversight boards. But I’m not here to talk about that kind of inflation.
I’m wondering about inflation in our expectations in these days. This isn’t unique to now, and it is something that we don’t often take a moment to pause and consider the impacts.
Going back 25 years ago it bordered on the obscene for someone to not have a home telephone, and it was a confusing irritant for that telephone not to be connected to an answering device of some kind if you weren’t answering it within a timely fashion yourself (within 4-6 rings).
When I recently needed to take our cat to the vet, I noticed that the intake form no longer had a designation of “home phone” or “cell phone.” It was simply “phone.” There was an additional line for “work phone,” and a checkbox after both asking if it was OK that they sent text messages to the number.
It made me think of an episode about seven or eight years ago, in my prior ministry, as our high school youth group was wrapping up for the evening. One of the teenagers realized his cell phone battery was dead so he asked if he could use the church’s phone. He went to dial his mom’s phone number but was confused why the call wasn’t going through. He asked me for help, and I asked him for the phone number – which he gave to me, beginning with our local area code, and then waiting politely for me to enter in those digits. We both looked at each other with a look of, “yes, and?”
I expected that he would know that on a landline at that time, you dialed just the seven digits of the “actual” phone number when it was in our own area code. And he expected that you dialed a phone number the only way he had ever known how to dial a phone number: ten digits, no need for a 1 in front of any area code or dropping one’s own area code, the cell phone simply processing it accordingly in the background.
To him, “phone” and “work phone” are the only necessary descriptors. (And for me, even “work phone” is a little redundant, seeing as how it points to an app that I can answer on my phone.)
This flip has come with some other inflations in our expectations. Because we no longer even presume that one has a home phone, tethered to one specific location, we also presume a certain immediacy in our interactions. Phone calls or text messages demand near-real time responses. (Which of those two has such demand depends on one’s generational identity.) Since it’s going to a device constantly on or near one’s person, we’ve inflated our expectation and reduced our collective patience.
I wonder where you see inflation in your own expectations lately, or in those of your ministry community? Have you taken some time to reflect on these, on what drives the inflation and what good the inflation serves?
Similar to the economy, some expectation inflation is necessary for a thriving, healthy community. When we unintentionally regress in our expectations, it can be a sign of something deeper that must be addressed.
And, just as similar, when our expectation inflation is out of control, our community suffers from great dis-ease. It cultivates an environment of anxiety, distrust, and poor decision-making.
Staffing update: Rev. Dr. Diane Weible has returned from her sabbatical and will return with next week’s “Let’s Talk” column.