What's in a wish

The world is full of well-meant wishes. We receive them from our parents and children, our lovers and friends, from our colleagues and from distant relatives. What they wish is normally something they deem good for us (although they may sometimes not expect us to also see the goodness in question — sometimes people know better, or think they know better, than ourselves what is good for us). And there are wishes of the opposite kind: those for something bad to happen to us. You can tell your enemies from what ills they hope your future will have in store for you. (Strictly speaking, there is a third sort of wishes: the kind that isn't really advantageous for you, but rather for the person who does the wishing. But even though they have the formal structure of wishing something, these are really a form of manipulation rather than genuine wishes. Let's not consider them here.)

If the content of a wish, that which is wished to someone, is either a good or a bad thing in the view of the wisher, then those wishes show us much about what people think is good for us, or bad. They do not tell us, however, what really is good or bad for us. How could they? They're just a mirror of people's opinions. (And the most common cause for those are yet other opinions; even in cases where at the end of such a transmission through many heads there was a genuine insight once, that's most likely been watered down, distorted, and connected with many wrong ideas on the path on which it was passed on.)

So what should we make of those commonly wished things: a long life, a successful career, beauty and fame, influence and power, status and wealth? If they are what people's wish implies, then they must be good for us. And likewise: death and disease, failure and poverty are they then as bad for us as our enemies's ill wishes would mean?

All these wishes are for something uncertain and unstable, their fulfillment depending on accident, on people's whims and prejudices but rarely on yourself. What's worse, they turn out to lead onto the wrong track often enough. Have you never met one of those unfortunate enough to have sacrificed everything for their career, only to realize how much their loved ones mattered to them when it was too late? Have you never seen the bitter remorse of someone who destroyed his integrity for the all-overriding goal of being at the pinnacle of getting the top job, making the front page, beating them all and be champion? Whatever it was, it's highly probable that it was once the content of some benevolent wishes; repeated often enough, it came to look like a real good, something worth achieving, something precious, more valuable than anything else. That was what it seemed to be. (And it's not just the sirens of friendly wishes; we're just as prone to take the furies of enemy wishes to mean too much to us. The path away from fearful things can become as treacherous as the path towards questionable goods.)

Curiously enough, it's rarely that people include such things as a good character, successful relationships, and insight in the nature of things with their good wishes. If nothing else makes us suspicious, this should. (Suspicious of the goodness of what's in their wishes, of course; not suspicious of your friends. They certainly do not intend to harm you; but we can honor their intention to wish something that is good even when we understand that, contrary to what they think, it isn't.)

As so often, you better trust in your own judgment, your considered thought, when trying to figure out what in fact is good and what is bad. Don't take received opinion for granted, even when it flows from the good intentions of your loved ones. Take care.
Copyright © 2007-2012 by Leif Frenzel. All rights reserved.