DISAPPOINTMENT: saddened by the failure of an expectation


It’s easy for people to get confused among words that sound similar.  For instance, do we mean to say that we are

  • discouraged
  • disgusted
  • disappointed
  • disturbed
  • despondent?

They all sound alike, and to some degree, they have some things in common.  But the reality is that there is a big difference in definition among them.

I want to focus specifically upon the word disappointed today.  To begin with I was disappointed myself when I looked up the definition of the word in the various resources available to me.  For the most part they used the word disappoint in their definitions, which I find to be of little value.  It is self-referential and doesn’t expand my knowledge at all.  I try never to use the root word in the definition.

But when I did find other words, they came up with the words “failure, defeat, frustration.”   I don’t think these are very good examples of the meaning of disappointment.  They make it sound as if the subject has blown it; it is he who has screwed up.  In reality, disappointment is a response to peoples’ reactions to what one has done.

A music critic’s negative critique creates disappointment. It is not necessarily that the performer did a bad job of interpreting the score or played badly.  It is the critic’s feelings of disappointment; she had expectations that were not met by the performance.  I remember the first time I went to a concert by the Philharmonic in Portland, Maine, where they were using a synthesizer as an instrument.   It was brilliant.   The sound was something the audience had never heard before.   There was a restlessness in the audience, and some people even stood and left.  The critiques in the papers the next day were filled with statements of disappointment (and disapproval.)  But nobody was saying that the instrumentalists (including the player of the synthesizer) were bad, or that they had played badly.  It was the concept of an electronic instrument being utilized in a genre of music that usually did not include such modernism.  The critics were disappointed…the players may have left feeling quite good about the way they presented the score.   True, the performers may have been disappointed in the critiques, but they weren’t feeling that the critics had written badly.  They were upset that the presentation wasn’t well received.

A disappointment is not a failure. It is a feeling about one’s expectations being dashed.   In the case I have cited, the quality of the presentation was not a failure.   But the audience’s response and the response of the critics led to sadness.  I suppose someone may say that the performers (or the conductor, or the person who chose the repertoire) were failures in attempting such a “radical” thing.   But again, that is a subjective response to someone’s performance.  In the years to come we have heard electronic instruments introduced into classical settings repeatedly, and the public ear is now less inclined to reject them.   Perhaps, instead of  failures, those who made that decision back in the 70’s were brilliant, forward-thinking and brave.

Again, disappointment is a subjective thing.  When it takes place, it is hard to be totally clear about that.  The feelings of rejection, sadness, and…yes…even despair dominate.  In time, hopefully, disappointment is found to be less than a fatal illness.  The key is to turn a disappointing moment into a learning which leads to a more successful or pleasing response.   If one is truly creative and driven to perform, the skills of the craft present themselves in such as way as to overcome the negative and embrace the positive.


Image Credit:  Precept

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