Wishful Thinking

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”


Greetings Dear Ones!

I am sewing a bridal gown.  I begin by pretending that taking up the shoulders so much (four inches!!) will not change the structure of the gown.  When I realize I now have to incorporate a disproportionately large sleeve that no longer fits, I pretend that I can just gather it.  When the resulting lumps make it look like the bride will be hiding dinner rolls under there, I pretend that I can just make a center seam where now there is none.  When that is blazing a crooked trail down her arm like the white dot trail on nearby Mount Monadnock, I pretend I can camouflage it with lace and beading… On it goes… my fantasy life with this gown—one wish making way for other wishes—each wish getting smacked by a new, emerging Reality that cannot be denied.  I am looking for comfort, as C.S. Lewis would say, rather than truth.  The truth is that I don’t want to mess with lowering the armhole because there were too many bones involved—both mine, and those belonging to the dress. (Yes, most fancy dresses have more “bones” than a bad piece of haddock. They are little plastic rods added to seams for the dual purpose of supporting the structure of the dress and driving innocent seamstresses to drink.) Besides, this bride does not need the extra space there.  She has skinny upper arms. “Never wielded a pitchfork in her life!” mutters Prudence.  I sew on, with that combination of hasty, lazy Diligence that I do best—trying to atone for my short-cuts with other shortcuts.  I think, not for the first time of that maxim emblazoned on swim-team T-shirts everywhere: “Winners make a habit of doing things Losers don’t want to do.” I am not quite sure yet if I am winning or losing with this gown.

There is a lot of wishful thinking in sewing, as in Life. (Was it not wishful thinking on the bride’s part to think that she could buy a dress so out of proportion to her body and have us wave a magic wand, or needle, over it and have all that extra fabric just magically disappear?) The Wiki definition of wishful thinking is “the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality, or reality.”  Also known as thinking that eating salad for six days will make you a size 6, or believing that one tank of gas should last a week, despite three trips to Vermont.

Sometimes, I am blundering my way towards Truth through a series of failed experiments. This is pure Science.  But when the desire for something to be true takes the place of evidence for the truthfulness of the claim, it becomes a logical fallacy or a cognitive bias that causes one to evaluate evidence very differently based on the desired outcome.

Example #1:

I wish I was a size [x]. Therefore, I am a size [x].  Size [x] is what I buy.  I cannot understand why it looks terrible on me.   

Prudence says: Madam, wishing it to be so, and finding it to be so are two entirely different matters. Empiricism wins the day, at least in dressing rooms.  Blind faith should be reserved only for God and rooting for the Patriots.

Example #2:

I know in my heart of hearts that you can fix this for me and make me look like something out of a magazine.

Prudence says: No, Madam, you don’t know that, (unless the magazine happens to be “Cast Iron Skillet” or “National Geographic”) and what the heck is your “heart of hearts” anyway?  You need two EYES, not two hearts—heck, even half a brain would do...  LOOK in the mirror. This is classic wishful thinking -- wanting your closed-eye “vision” so badly that you begin pretending that it is/has to be true.  In fact, it is so possible in your mind that that there will be no one to blame but Everyone Else if we fail you.  (Just because you spent thousands on this gown does not mean this is not your fault!)

Exception: When wishful thinking is expressed as a hope, wish, or prayer and no belief is formed as a result, then it is not a fallacy because no direct or indirect argument is being made.

I really hope that I don’t have to undo all this beading! I really hope she likes this! Is it lunchtime yet?

What I am learning about Wishful Thinking here at my little sewing table is that wishing for something to be true is a powerful technique when and only when, a) you have an influence on what it is you want to be true and b) you take action to make it come true -- not just wish for it to be true. Magic doesn’t happen by wishing. It happens with Doing.  Only Doing changes facts.  As a sewing “scientist” I can mess with the current “fact” that this dress does not fit by changing all the variables within my power to change.  As John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  No amount of wishing has ever made mosquitoes suck fat instead of blood.

I read a lot about the Law of Attraction and about the theory that says “whatever we think about most” will come to us.  It’s an intriguing idea but I must confess my doubts and wonder if it is not just another form of Wishful Thinking.   If it were true, I would have a lot more cookies in my life and no broken appliances in my home. (This week alone, my washer, the stove, and the hoover are all awaiting repair!)  I never think about breaking things.  It just happens.  I think about cookies all the time yet never have them.   I spend an inordinate amount of my days, sewing quietly and wishing fervently:

I hope both arms of this coat turn out the same.

I wish this woman had washed her pants before bringing them in to be mended.

I wish that very tall, skinny young man had not bought all those ragged, portly-short waistcoats at the consignment shop and brought them here to be tailored for himself (It’s wishful thinking on his part to think these things will ever fit him right or remain any sort of bargain after we put twenty hours into remaking them)…

I wish my bank account filled up as easily as my dirty laundry basket.

I wish I could have faith that our government always served the will of its people. 

I wish certain customers came with warning labels.

I wish everyone I knew enjoyed perfect health and vibrancy...

 Not all wishes can come true.  I have a recently-divorced friend who commiserates, saying, “I don’t have a lot of wishes. I just want to play my fiddle, drink some decent gin, laugh a lot, and then take my cute ass home to love the same man every night—why is that so hard?”  I don’t know.   Some days, I wake up feeling so ugly inside I wonder if I should just eat my bag of make-up rather than apply it to my face. I wish I could climb inside the dryer and shrink my skin for ten minutes, instead of my jeans. I wish life was easier for us all.  As Burgess Meredith’s character says in the movie Grumpy Old Men, “Well, you can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which gets filled first.”

We need to stay away from useless wishful thinking as much as we need to stay away from anyone who makes us feel like we are too hard to love.   Wishes are a form of magical thinking that says we can make wonderful changes without doing any work—though To Wish is one of those primordial, axiomatic elements of Being.  Such is our human condition:  Between the rocks and the stars, we make our home.  We can wish on all those stars but we live here, in the dirt, made of Dust ourselves, so it’s no wonder we crave sparkle. It’s absolutely necessary that we thirst for and create Beauty where we can.  Sometimes, our wishes lead to other wishes; sometimes they conflict with our other desires, or the desires of others. When we come together and share our wishes, prioritize them, evaluate what is actually Possible—then we arrange them into hierarchies of what is Do-able.  This makes them, and us, Sophisticated. We get Organized. We begin to work with each other, with the desires of other people and the wider world beyond our own closets.  Our wishes lead to our values.  Our values become our morality.  Our morality leads our actions.  Our actions become the foundations of the Good we leave behind.  Sometimes we don’t get what we want until we get up and just DO that Thing Which Must Be Done. Don’t tell me you didn’t get everything you “wished for” in the last election or that sale at Macy’s. Tell me how you are now building a bridge to what is Possible.

Be well, be Merry and Kind my dearies—and do Good Work!  Wishing you the BEST sort of day,

Yours aye,


P.S. For those of you “wishing” I revealed more outcomes in these blogs, that bride turned out very happy with her sleeves—we got very lucky with the beading and the lace.  Some wishes do come true!