Wishes reveal the truth about our relations with others, and it is sometimes more painful than the content of wishes, say Dorota Majkowska-Szajer and Małgorzata Roeske, who co-create at the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow, a team that studied the formulas and contexts of making wishes.
PAP: In 130 interviews with nearly 150 people there appeared, among others the theme of "painful wishes", which are often given during family meetings, for example on Christmas Eve, and remain in the memory of the addressees for a long time. How can they be defined?
Małgorzata Roeske: These are wishes that make us feel uncomfortable. They affect those spheres of our life in which we are unfulfilled. They may indicate that the person submitting them does not accept us and our life as it is, and wants to influence our life decisions and choices.
PAP: Schematic wishes, based on a repetitive, well-worn formula, associated with haste and lack of commitment, even if made in good faith, are also assessed negatively.
Dorota Majkowska-Szajer: Indeed, wishes that we perceive as an intrusion into the intimate spheres of our lives and those that are a duplication of well-known formulas may turn out to be equally painful. I have the impression that we feel most hurt when our wishes do not meet our expectations. It hurts to know that someone who addresses us does not know what we think they should know: what we care about, what is most important to us at the moment and what may affect us. As many statements of the research participants show, we believe that wishes reveal the truth about our relationships with others, and it seems to me that it is more often the cause of injury than the very content of wishes.
PAP: "Classic" painful wishes are ...
Małgorzata Roeske: "I wish you to find a husband", "That you would finally have children", "That you would finish your studies". I remember that a young woman had very strong emotions: "I wish you to do your master's degree". The person who heard them had a good job, was professionally and financially fulfilled, believed that she did not need a master's degree. It was the moment when our interlocutor decided that this is where the possibility of influencing her life ends. Another example: a girl wished her friend to continue her dancing career, but she had serious health problems and it was impossible. Painful wishes don't have to be intentional on the part of the wisher. It's a matter of how we perceive them.
PAP: When you started the research, did you expect this thread to appear, or is the negative dimension of wishes rather unaware?
Dorota Majkowska-Szajer: The theme of badly received wishes manifested itself very strongly and this intensity was a surprise to me. Indeed, many interviews have stated that wishes involve the risk of injury or abuse.
Małgorzata Roeske: I did not expect such wishes to be such a problem. I don't remember ever having this hit me personally. The interviews conducted in the first stage of the research showed that this is, however, a significant social problem.
PAP: What reactions arise from such wishes?
Małgorzata Roeske: The first reaction is often silence, but a strong sense of dissonance. It takes a while for us to realize that this shouldn't have happened. A lot of people just say thank you and that's it. Violent reactions such as anger are rare. One of my interlocutors said that when he heard such a wish, he would answer with a slightly malicious smile: You too, I wish you the same "good".
Dorota Majkowska-Szajer: The situation can be overwhelming and oppressive. It is nice, we are all kind to each other… In such an atmosphere it is difficult for people who felt hurt to react directly and say: don't talk to me like that, I don't want to hear it, you don't know anything about my life. We are not sure about the intention of the person making the wishes. Maybe someone acted in good faith and hurt accidentally? ... We do not want to return the blows, especially since the closest are often "guilty". We are revealed by the body's reactions: our heartbeats harder, our palms sweat, our fingers are clenched. Completely different than we could imagine in a situation of closeness, mutual trust.
PAP: What is the basis of such wishes that those who make them want to achieve?
Małgorzata Roeske: I tried to ask if those who experience such wishes make them themselves. But this did not appear in the responses of our interlocutors. Probably because we rarely get feedback that our wishes have not been well received. Why do we make such wishes? It seems to me that we want good for someone, but our "good" is not always good for others. We have different visions of the right life, our value system often misses the point. We think what is good for someone, and it is really good for ourselves.
Dorota Majkowska-Szajer: Perhaps we are provoked by the situation: ritual, ritual? We take on the role of a member of the community and adopt somehow shared ideas about how we should live. It is not easy for those who do not accept these patterns. The very fact of making wishes is also a difficult situation - not many people have the experience of speaking in public, formulating aloud thoughts about expectations about life, the future, dreams ... We also do not have many opportunities to stand in front of each other and pay attention. The feeling that words spoken out loud have meaning, work.
PAP: Have the respondents developed any methods of defense?
Małgorzata Roeske: There are different strategies. We can cut ourselves off emotionally: we accept wishes, we give thanks, but we don't really care what someone said or what they think about us. But is it possible, since wishes affect the most important spheres of our life? ... We can also try to work through those spheres of our life that negatively affect our self-esteem - then such wishes have a chance not to affect us so much.
PAP: What determines the fact that we perceive wishes as bad?
Małgorzata Roeske: It's about the relationship with another person and the emotional state of the recipient, how he feels with himself at a given moment, at what stage in his life he is. External circumstances also influence the reception of wishes: Christmas tension, how many people are around, who can hear it. But the most important thing is whether we expect wishes to be spoken honestly, with our well-being in mind, and how we deal with what the words that say do to our emotions. Wishes are sometimes compared to gifts. The young woman recalled her grandmother, a conservative person, with a traditional lifestyle. But because she had a close relationship with her, she treated her wishes as if she had received a drawing from a child that did not meet aesthetic standards, but the intention, which was a derivative of the relationship, is more important.
PAP: Do painful wishes make sense?
Dorota Majkowska-Szajer: Wishes certainly make sense - they build relationships, they are an opportunity to show closeness and tenderness. But it's worth remembering that for some, the compulsion to accept and make wishes can prove unbearable. We heard that in some families at the beginning of Christmas Eve it was announced that the custom of making "everyone with everyone" wishes would be put back on the shelf. And there were families for whom it was a relief. But there were also those in which it caused consternation and the following year it was reverted to the traditional formula. By approaching ourselves, making wishes, we open up, take off the armor that we wear every day. It also makes the wishes severe. Sometimes we get something that wraps us in a warm blanket, and sometimes we get a needle that goes deep somewhere. I remember the statement of a young woman, who, talking about Christmas Eve in the workplace, said: "I never know if it will be fun or disgusting." This is a kind of tension. We put ourselves at risk. But suddenly the kindness that manifests itself in such a situation can also be very reassuring.
Małgorzata Roeske: This is a social convention that allows us to say something that we do not normally talk about. Wishes can be an impulse to talk, to reformulate the relationship and ask for help. Our conversations show that we should think about how we can make wishes - maybe we should do it in a more conscious and gentle way?
PAP: Has the way of submitting wishes changed?
Dorota Majkowska-Szajer: Older people, remembering their childhood Christmas Eve, did not focus on what they wished. They spoke of it in terms of obviousness. After all, you have to wish your child to learn well, be healthy and well-behaved. But today we do not perceive these formulas as obvious and innocent. Expectations have changed, also with regard to relationships. The perceptions of who in the family have the right to say how we should live and who set the standards have changed.
Małgorzata Roeske: It is also a matter of the multiplicity of worldviews and lifestyles, which did not exist then. There was a time when you wished what everyone wanted. Now we often have a different vision of life than our parents do.
PAP: What are the best wishes for this?
Małgorzata Roeske: Those that show that someone is for us and that we are important to someone. These can be expanded into words of wishes that show how well the person knows us, or it can be a simple hug. If we know a lot about someone, let's think it over. Consider how this person will perceive it and minimize any potential damage. And if we don't know much about this person, it's safe to say: I wish you what you yourself would like. Non-verbal gestures are also important to make the person feel that we are close. Even words as simple as "hello", which means "know I'm here".
Dorota Majkowska-Szajer: As one of the participants of our research said: "First of all, I wish you good health. Perpetual health. Because this is actually the most important thing. Everything else will work out somehow, but it's important that it goes well for everyone. To be yourself. , make dreams come true, do not cease in efforts. And that everyone should live, not compare himself with others, but be himself, find his place in life ".
Interviewer: Małgorzata Wosion-Czoba
Dorota Majkowska-Szajer - cultural anthropologist, graduate of the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology of the Jagiellonian University, member of the Polish Ethnological Society. She works at the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow, involved in research projects ("Family Souvenir", "Wesela 21", "Wesele 21: audioportret", "Wishes", "Our life in a time of plague") as well as educational, exhibition and publishing projects.
Małgorzata Roeske - an anthropologist, philosopher, doctoral student at the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology of the Jagiellonian University. Author of a number of articles and the book "A Cellar Closer to Death, an Attic Closer to Heaven. Ethnography of the Hidden Spaces of a Home" (Krakow 2018). Editor-in-chief of the anthropological journal "Barbarian". (PAP)
author: Małgorzata Wosion-Czoba