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July 3, 2013 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Why is it that when things end not well, whether it between friends, or lovers, or employers and employees, people often say "I wish him/her the best"? I'm not sure I understand the sentiment- I certainly don't wish them the best. I mean, I'm not going to put a curse on you or go out of my way to exact revenge, but what happens to you is no longer my concern and I could care less if you're happy, or if things go the best for you. Is it just a matter of being the bigger person? Is it just some rhetoric so that you can tell yourself you're a good person? Or do they genuinely wish them the best even after things have turned extremely ugly between them, and if so, why?
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper to Human Relations (44 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Of the dead, nothing unless good.

What I mean is, this sentiment is hundreds of years old.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:22 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that in practice it often means, "I don't wish anything bad on them" and is practically a lot more indifferent/neutral than the phrase states, but that's the idiom.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:22 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


A wish costs you nothing and life is presumably not a zero sum game where someone else receiving the best deprives you in some way. I agree with tylerk but also would argue that there's no reason to "wish them things that aren't bad" as opposed to "wish them the best."

If we were living in, say, The Hunger Games, I think it would be fair to "wish them a painless death" since if they get the best, you get to die.
posted by telegraph at 1:24 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Enchanting Grasshopper: I mean, I'm not going to put a curse on you or go out of my way to exact revenge, but what happens to you is no longer my concern and I could care less if you're happy, or if things go the best for you.

I honestly can't understand having this mentality about someone I once cared for. I wish all of my exes and former employers the best, even the ones that cheated on me or fired me. I guess the affection and good feelings I had for them over the course of our relationship outweighs the negative way it ended. I think if you asked me in the immediate aftermath I might not have been so kind, but even a few days or weeks after, when the initial flush of anger fades, I would still wish them well.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:27 PM on July 3, 2013 [58 favorites]


In these situations, lots of people aim to genuinely, genuinely want the best for the other person. And if you can't muster that, it's good manners just to pretend so.
posted by mochapickle at 1:28 PM on July 3, 2013 [14 favorites]


A lot of people when severing contact with someone else, for whatever reason, do honestly still care about the person they're severing ties with (sometimes even if things got really ugly), and really do wish them well.
posted by smoq at 1:28 PM on July 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


Often I think it's the equivalent of "no hard feelings" but with a more positive tone. Especially if you are referring to the person in the third person, it's a lot easier to say "I wish him the best" than "I have no hard feelings towards him" which sounds kind of stuffy and cumbersome, almost to the point that the listener might think it's doublespeak.
posted by payoto at 1:28 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I usually wish my exes, former friends, former comrades, etc, "the best". Why wouldn't I? Now, if it's turned out that they are racists or sexual harassers or otherwise evil and that's why we parted company, why then, yes, I would not wish them the best. But normally, they still have the qualities I loved and enjoyed - they are still funny or kind or good with troubled people or whatever - it's just that I've figured out that we two individuals aren't good together. I find it really unpleasant to imagine that I would be "indifferent" to someone I once cared for deeply just because we aren't fucking anymore, actually.

Now, some of this is no doubt some kind of emotional sunk-cost fallacy - I can't bear to believe that I am so wrong about a person that I should actually start hating or feeling indifferent where once I loved. Some of this is undoubtedly disavowal - I disavow my anger because it's too painful and scary to acknowledge that I am full of hate.

To me, part of becoming a full human being is recognizing that you can fight with someone and say mean stuff without either you or them being a terrible person. (Even though sometimes when you fight with someone and say mean stuff, that's a sign that you are a terrible person.) Certainly, if someone who is actively morally bad - who is abusive to you or steals from you, for example - you should not feel obliged to be dishonest with the world and claim to "wish them the best". But just regular fighting? Sometimes people fight, even nice, good people.
posted by Frowner at 1:29 PM on July 3, 2013 [18 favorites]


When I've said things like that about someone who's no longer in my life, I'm using it as a reminder to myself that it's better for me to wish them well than to hang onto any anger or animosity. Have you ever heard it said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die? It's that idea that I'm working with when I say I wish someone the best.
posted by palomar at 1:30 PM on July 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


I think it can be complicated. Sometimes people say it so they don't appear petty (whether to themselves or others); for example, it's not professional to publicly speak ill of a former colleague, even though privately they may really not wish them particularly well at all.

But I also think some people are capable of separating their personal feelings (pain, anger, disappointment) from a more general sense of what they hope happens to a fellow human being they once loved or respected or otherwise cared about. Indeed, it's possible to still care about (even love) someone even when the relationship ends -- yes, even when it ends badly.

Ultimately this is based in a sense of compassion and empathy for other people, in which you can see that others are just imperfect human beings like you are, and therefore are worthy of goodwill even if they are not in your life any longer.
posted by scody at 1:31 PM on July 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Most of the folks in my past I wish the best for. The reason is, I'm so happy where I am, and although the road here was twisty and windy and weird (oh, so very weird) I wouldn't trade any of it because here I am.

Now there are one or two truly evil people that I met, and I don't with them the best. Not at all.

But all those other folks, meh, they can have the best. Costs me nothing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:40 PM on July 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think it depends on the situation. If the ending is such that one can see that there is blame on both sides, it feels pretty healthy to take a sort of "Yeah, that was mess, neither of us came out of that looking pretty, let's dust ourselves down, move on and good luck to the both of us" attitude. On the other hand, if one person is royally stiffed by the other, it makes sense not to forgive. This is what happened in the case of my ex-wife, by the way. I'll always despise her. :-)
posted by Decani at 1:42 PM on July 3, 2013


Yes, forgiveness is often the mark of a bigger person, but if you want to analyze it from a purely selfish viewpoint, hatred usually ends up harming the hater much more than the hated. It is far better to get on with your life in a positive manner and find someone more compatible. Most mature people know it takes two to tango, and few people want to hang out with a bitter gossip.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:50 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I deeply cared for someone and they are not in my life anymore, then, of course, I'd wish them the best.

If I deeply cared for someone and it ended rather ugly but quickly, then, as Rock Steady noted, I'd wish them the best once I cooled down.

If I deeply cared for someone and grew to genuinely despise them, or if I hated someone from the beginning, I was still taught that I should wish the things I want for myself (the best) for those I am angry with or resentful towards.

If I was indifferent to someone's existence in my life, and happened to be there when they were leaving, I'd probably wish them the best out of social obligation.

If you took my prime parking spot on a busy Friday, as you walk away, I'd mentally curse you with "I hope all the bad things in life happen to you and nobody else but you" a la Chappelle
posted by Debaser626 at 1:53 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe i'm a cynical asshole, or just an asshole, or some variation therein... but

Is it just some rhetoric so that you can tell yourself you're a good person?

Always really seemed like the case to me, and it really bugs me a lot of the times when people say that in a way that comes off about how "Well bless their heart" does.

It's not that it always feels that way, but it often seems like a really plausibly deniable way to say something between "Lol good luck" and "Eh, watch them burn". In that whole "But mom, i meant ass like a donkey!" sort of i-didn't-say-anything-but-nice-stuff way.

I'd say it's like 20/60/20 that, people who don't really care either way but are just going through the motions of being social, and people who actually care but don't want to elaborate so they just fire out the automatic response.

There's a definite existence of snark in this sort of thing at times though.
posted by emptythought at 2:05 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


what happens to you is no longer my concern

Is this how you see others in general? How you imagine others see you?
posted by 0 answers at 2:14 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


'I wish him/her/them all the best' also shames those who are wishing you evil, and makes them think you are really a sweet guy after all. You quit winners with a nice reputation.
posted by Cranberry at 2:24 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, I'm not going to put a curse on you or go out of my way to exact revenge, but what happens to you is no longer my concern and I could care less if you're happy, or if things go the best for you

This is not really that far from what most people mean by that phrase, imho. You don't hope some awful fate will befall them, but you don't intend them to be part of your life or anything. Contrast "We broke up but I wish him the best" with "We broke up but he's a wonderful person, I really hope he meets a girl who's perfect for him someday!" That's literally wishing someone the best. Just saying you wish them the best is like saying you don't wish them ill.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:28 PM on July 3, 2013


In these days of Internet it seems that a sane approach is to avoid hurting anyone ever so much that they may develop an obsession or a lasting grudge against you. There are so many ways to harass someone, especially if the troublemaker doesn't have much to lose. The problem is that you don't always know how much someone has been hurt by you.

Relationship breakdowns are situations where these deep hurts and potential grudges are created accidentally or by heated exaggerations. These events can be easily ignored or totally missed by the injuring party. If the other party feels injured and their life goes badly, they may still come back to your life to fix the injustice. More fucked up their life has become, the more fucked up their demands and ways to get your attention can be.

If the other party walks away uninjured into new sane, happy life, you can be sure that there won't be future drama bombs dropped into your life, and that is a result to wish for, genuinely. Peace.
posted by Free word order! at 2:32 PM on July 3, 2013


"If someone hates me for my happiness, I ask God that he sends him or her happiness so that he or she may forget mine." -- Arab proverb
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:50 PM on July 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


For me, it means one of three things:

1) I genuinely, even though things ended badly, still do hope that their lives are okay, because I'm over it, and I don't have any long-term hard feelings. I've moved on and am happy, and I hope they are too.

2) It's shorthand for, "that guy was a jerk/loser/asshole, and I really hope that he's grown up since then and become less terrible, because the world doesn't need anyone to keep being that awful, so I hope it was just a phase and now he's figured out how to be a decent person."

3) It's shorthand for, "I hate that guy, but if I told you what I really think of him, it would wreck this nice, polite conversation that you and I are having."
posted by decathecting at 2:51 PM on July 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Oh, one more possibility is "That guy was a huge jerk, but it seems like you're friends with him, and you might tell him that you ran into me, and I don't want to give him the satisfaction of letting him think that I'm still holding a grudge, or even thinking about him at all."
posted by decathecting at 2:53 PM on July 3, 2013


Sometimes it can be code for "I hope he reaps what he has sown." If I sever ties with someone who causes me pain, my idea of "the best" might be completely different than their idea of the best for them.

But yeah, it's usually just a "whatever, you don't have to go home but you can't stay here" kind of politeness.

And I do think not caring what happens or hoping something bad happens to someone says more about themselves than the target of their disdain.
posted by gjc at 3:10 PM on July 3, 2013


I think the use of the phrase tends to be somewhat disingenuous when the relationship ended on a sour note. It gets used as a PR-type statement in polite company where it would be inappropriate to share one's true feelings about the relationship or the circumstances leading up to its demise. Usually either because you don't know the other person well enough to be willing to share the nitty-gritty of what happened, or because speaking disparagingly of the other party may carry negative consequences for some reason.

It doesn't seem to be connected to how someone actually feels about the other person. Context is everything-- whether or not you actually wish someone well is expressed through how you speak about that person.
posted by fox problems at 3:20 PM on July 3, 2013


I wish them the best because happy people are a lot less likely to come back and fuck me around later on, whereas angry bitter people are basically drama bombs on a short fuse.
posted by Sternmeyer at 3:44 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes at what fox problems said about PR and also because it is vulgar to air your dirty laundry in public. It can be used as a "please don't ask me because I'm not going to tell you".
posted by janey47 at 3:48 PM on July 3, 2013


When I wish people the best, I don't literally mean I hope they get a billion dollars and a book deal. I just mean I hope their life goes okay and I bear no ill will.

It also sometimes carries an implication of "whatever, I don't care if they do get a billion dollars as long as I never hear from them again." Or "They actually kinda suck and I hope they turn into non-sucky people one day."
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:18 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


You should always wish someone the best unless you have a specific reason not to. Usually in these circumstances, there are no good reasons not to wish someone the best.
posted by grog at 5:20 PM on July 3, 2013


You might want to read about Reaction Formation.
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:04 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I honestly can't understand having this mentality about someone I once cared for. I wish all of my exes and former employers the best, even the ones that cheated on me or fired me. I guess the affection and good feelings I had for them over the course of our relationship outweighs the negative way it ended. I think if you asked me in the immediate aftermath I might not have been so kind, but even a few days or weeks after, when the initial flush of anger fades, I would still wish them well.

For me, that's true in most cases, but not all. A few toxic personalities deserve my disrespect, and I am pleased to give it to them.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:46 PM on July 3, 2013


I guess I still feel warmth and fondness toward the person and although I can recognize that they are not going to meet my relational needs anymore, they are still a person who deserves good things in life (as all people do).
posted by latkes at 6:47 PM on July 3, 2013


I want the best for them, honestly. I want the best for most people, when I'm able to. Carrying anger or ill will around in me is unpleasant, and neither healthy nor productive. If I can let go of it, it's for the best, and usually easiest for people I once enjoyed relating to.
posted by ead at 7:17 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think as time gives you perspective--both distance from the situation and a bigger base of experience to draw from--you mellow out a little bit. A lot of my "crazy ex-girlfriends"...ehhhh, yeah, some of their behavior was a little unreasonable, but I wasn't nearly the blameless saint I would've made myself out to be at the time. Likewise, a lot of the work problems I had, some of it was genuinely unreasonable and some of it is more understandable now that I have a little time and distance and perspective.

Like there was this guy I worked with that I was told hated me from several reliable sources. Just really disliked me for no reason at all I knew of. And it sort of gibed with the way we interacted at work, like he wasn't overly rude, it just seemed like he didn't like me for some reason. So alright, you don't like me? I don't like you either. We both eventually left, stayed in the same industry, and several years later I ran into him and he was completely cordial and friendly and has been ever since and we chat a lot. So I carried all that grar around and wasted all that energy not getting to know and chat with a cool guy I really like because I was too wrapped up in my own grar to let things go until fairly recently. Likewise, someone else I thought didn't really like me got into fitness and stuff and now we bond and trade tips and motivate each other. If I'd hung onto my anger, I wouldn't have gotten to know them at all.

"Anger is a gift. You can accept it or turn it away." is something I think about a lot.

Now, that's not to say I'm completely forgiving. There's a couple guys that I don't actively think negative thoughts towards, but I definitely will not work with or talk to again. So I don't hope they get hit by a truck, but they've been surgically removed from my life the way you would a tumor.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:00 PM on July 3, 2013


After the dissolution of our marriage, I truly hoped my first ex-wife would be able to put her life back together. I know I had a hard time of it, for reasons that weren't her fault, and she didn't deserve the basket case that was me. Besides, I wasn't even particularly pissed off at her boyfriend, although I entertained some grim thoughts on his behalf. Okay, I thought they were entertaining then, but looking back on them, yeah grim. I ain't like that anymore.

But the Dragon Lady. Ah, man. I was hoping my second ex-wife would have brick fall on her head that would give her amnesia, and she wouldn't remember ever having known me. I was warmed often by that fantasy, and others during the first couple of years after we separated. Eventually I even stopped waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweats, waiting for her goddam phone calls. I hated answering the phone, thinking it might be her, because nothing, nothing, good ever came from her phone calls (or letters from her goddam lawyer, for that matter). Still she was my son's mother, so, during those moments of clarity when I was able to be reasonable about it, I rationalized that any hardship on her was a hardship on my son (and her daughters, whom I'd grown to love as my own children). Thinking of the children like that: having to maybe explain to them the reasons I did or said such and such to their mother, enabled me to let fantasies and reality remain separate. I always tried to take the high ground, and, looking back, I did a pretty good job of that.

We've been divorced for um, about thirty years now. I hear she's doing okay, and I actually hope she's gotten over some her bullshit ways, so that she can find as much love and happiness as I stumbled into, some twenty years or so ago.

I guess anybody can mumble that "I wish you the best" bullshit, but whether they mean it or not sort of depends on the circumstances.
posted by mule98J at 8:40 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is an old saying:
Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your deeds. Be careful of your deeds, for your deeds become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
So - firstly, people are superstitious and/or religious. Most religions give some guidance on treating others with generosity of spirit or have some notion of karmic retribution for those with dark souls.

Secondly, over time, small differences in opinion often disappear and get wiped off the slate. Upon meeting again, you often celebrate or discuss what you had in common rather than dwell on the mounting irritation you felt at the time. You may turn up at your high school reunion and avoid the most notable bully, but most other people share some part of your history and give you that link to your past.

More practically, however, in times gone pasts, communities were smaller and more closed. You tried not to burn bridges because you didn't know when it would come and bite you in the ass.

Ironically, now the wheel is turning back this way because of social media. For example, Linkedin means your professional network is likely to include - even at second level - people you didn't like or respect. But you wish them well partly because life's too short to hold grudges against everyone and partly because the world has got a little smaller.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:52 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I... wish most people the best. Like, when I hear that a stranger has been killed in an accident, I am sad for them and for their family (though I try not to think about it too hard). I want everyone to be able to find a good job, and a happy relationship, and raise their children well.

Now, that may be more mild than what you think of when you hear 'wish him the best'. Maybe you're thinking of it like, "I hope he becomes the #1 most successful", or "I hope he wins the lottery" or something. But I've always heard it as "I wish him all that is best in life", or basically just a slightly stronger version of "I wish him well".
posted by Lady Li at 12:36 AM on July 4, 2013


Thanks for all the answers; they have provided clarity. It seems a lot of people have different thoughts/feelings about this, ranging from "it's just a nice thing to say even if you don't mean it" to "you're a sociopath if you don't really wish everyone in the world the best."
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 2:04 AM on July 4, 2013


I wish former friends/exes the best because, well, why not? Even my worst breakups were with people that, at one time, I had a lot of good feelings for. The fact that a relationship didn't work out doesn't mean that they're a bad person - just that we weren't a good combination.

Also, it's not a zero-sum game, other people can do well and it doesn't affect my life in the slightest.

I can count two or three people I've known personally or professionally that I can't say I wish the best on. If I'm asked about them, I just say I don't wish them any harm - but I don't wish to be associated with or around them in any capacity.
posted by jzb at 7:19 AM on July 4, 2013


For the most part I try to wish people the best even if something bad happened because it makes me feel better to do so. I don't really know if I believe in karma but I also don't believe that my having ill wishes on someone will have any kind of satisfying effect. OTOH if karma exists, wishing someone well creates good karma for me.

Otherwise I usually do actually wish them well, and even if something shitty happened, well, shitty things happen to the best of us and the best of us sometimes do shitty things.

Other than that I think the words themselves are often uttered out of social obligation.
posted by fromageball at 8:29 AM on July 4, 2013


"you're a sociopath if you don't really wish everyone in the world the best."

I know you're being a little jokey here to illustrate that there is indeed a range of thoughts on this issue (and that's fine), but I would point out that literally no one has implied that it's sociopathic not to wish everyone in the world the best. Trying to cultivate a sense of compassion for as broad a range of humanity as possible does not automatically imply a moral condemnation of those who don't.
posted by scody at 12:18 PM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


My feelings fall into three categories:

1) For the vast majority, I realize that our relationship didn't work out but sincerely do wish them the best. If they ran into an emergency and needed some help I could easily give, I would want to help. I respect them. I'd probably say "he's a great person, and I wish him all the best," or "they're a great shop, and I hope they get the success they deserve."

2) For a small fraction, I have extremely mixed feelings that I'd describe kind of like "I hope they're finding what they want out of life" or "I hope their business operation is rolling along," silently finishing the sentence "... far away from me," "...doing all that crazy stuff he likes to do," "...maybe one day learning how to do their job a bit more professionally." I don't want to be near them, and I don't agree with how they do things, but I don't dislike them as people. I might still feel caring or sympathy for them (along with other feelings). I still wish the best for them though I'm dubious this good outcome will come to pass.

3) Then, there is a tiny sliver towards whom I am sorry to say I temporarily do hope bad things happen or come to feel some regret or unhappiness, or at least cannot muster any sort of "I wish the best" feelings at all. This is generally when (it seemed to me) they intentionally hurt me or someone I love and caused damage from which we are still reeling. In a formal setting, I'd probably say either nothing or something like "it was a very difficult experience for me" or "I'd suggest people work with a different plumber." My opinion tends to cross from category 3 to 2 as the emotional injuries heal or the financial damage gets paid off.

I used to always wish people well, but then two things happened: my own naive trust faded, creating the distinction between categories 1 and 2, and the (emotional or financial) surpluses that made compassion come easily got depleted, creating the distinction between 2 and 3. It seems that some people don't have a category 3, even when the damage cuts them quite deeply, but I'm still trying to get (back?) to that place.

tl;dr For me, wishing someone well is distinct from not wishing them well, so when people say they wish someone well, it tells me something about both the speaker and their interactions with the ex-associate.
posted by salvia at 1:13 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really want all people to be happy. Even if it's someone who has hurt me deeply or someone who I feel has been cruel in the past, I sincerely hope that they reform their ways and never ever speak to me again. I'm not a vengeful person. I hope they all have wonderful lives, far far away from me.
posted by capricorn at 3:35 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's quite a few cases for me.

Ex-boyfriends:
1) We just weren't right, it wasn't an ugly breakup. They're still a good person, and I hope they fit better with someone else.
2) We just weren't right, it was an ugly breakup but I contributed to the ugliness. They had good parts. I wish them the best... preferably away from me for a while.
3) The variant who intentionally harmed me. I would not wish this type any 'best'.

Ex-colleagues:
1) They're leaving at an inconvenient time/putting more work on me. Annoying, but I still hope they do well anyway.
2) They're incompetent, but a good person. I'm extremely glad they're leaving - but because they're a good person, I hope they do well.
3) Wishing them well is professionally a good idea. I may or may not actually wish them well, but in the professional world, if saying nothing is not an option, I will wish someone who is leaving the best if it is beneficial for me to do so.
posted by Ashlyth at 7:28 AM on July 8, 2013


My ex was an emotionally abusive scumbag, but I also don't wish that he dies in a fire or is attacked by killer bees or anything of that nature.

I do on occasion wish that he has some unpleasant things happen to him that will help him get some of the maturity and perspective he desperately needs. (You could call it educational schadenfreude?)

As this is kind of a complicated sentiment to express, I go with the ol' "I wish him the best" with everyone except my very dearest friends and family. I think this is probably what you're encountering most of the time when people say this.
posted by cheberet at 9:48 AM on July 14, 2013


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