I heard the phrase again at work the other day: “Be careful what you ask for.”
I hate that snippet of conventional wisdom. It just bugs me.
To be honest, I reject most of the ideas that people call “conventional wisdom”, especially those which smack of cynicism to me. I especially dislike this one, though. Be careful what you ask for? What a hopeless way to exist. Autonomous. Self-reliant. Won’t get taken in.
Cynics. We’ve all been exposed to too many of them lately. I don't know about you, but they sometimes get under my skin, leaving me wondering why I bother with the virtues.
When I mentioned to a friend that I was exploring this topic for our discussion, she said, “Really? Is it that important? I wouldn’t have thought of it.”
I said, “That’s because they’re so common.”
Granted, cynical people have a certain draw about them: They seem savvy, and realistic, and they offer up amusing quips about their life view; however, the truth is being cynical is just a neat way for them to look good while they cower in fear. It’s a form of auto-cannibalism of the soul, where they appear to feed off of themselves: They are all they need. They require no one, they ask for nothing - because they know that people are capricious, and will let them down every time. They’re too smart to be fooled.
At least, that’s what the cynic puts across; however, the counterpart to cynicism is manipulation. Cynics, like everyone else, do need from others - but they get their needs met on the sly, never taking responsibility for actually having exposed their humanity. It’s easy. It’s safe. But it’s a cheat.
Anyway, back to this particular phrase, “Be careful what you ask for.” That one may just be the definition of “cynical”. Do you live that way, believing that? If so, and if you’re honest with yourself, you know how it benefits you to refuse to ask for anything directly: You never feel that you owe anybody any part of yourself.
But let’s take a look at what you lose.
You lose the comfort of belonging, as you reach for someone and their arms open to you… After all, they will probably turn away. Besides, they’ll be gone one day, one way or another. You lose the soul-stretch of forgiving another, because they’ll just mess up again anyway (and you know that cynical old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you…”) You lose your insight into the ways in which you need forgiveness, because the pain you cause others is justified in your own head by those who previously let you down. You lose the confidence that no matter how many times you’re rejected, or how many times you mess up, you’ll survive, and grow stronger. You lose your ability to look at a sunset and feel wonder - because it will grow dark soon, and the dread of impending darkness negates the awe.
You lose your desire, and your dreams, because you pretend to know that they won’t be realized. After all, why plant a garden that may not grow?
You lock away your human connection to others, and give up your right to love freely. In doing so, you deny others their humanity. You rigidly refuse to allow the platform upon which they may fail you, and there’s no intimacy then. No forgiveness, and nothing grows - because the opposite of cynicism is forgiveness.
On the flip side - and there is one, you know - those around you lose the ability to love you freely, because they become cynical, too. About you. They’re always giving, but it feels like a cheat. They take no pleasure in pleasing you, because it feels more like paying a debt that they never owed. There’s no true relationship with you. There’s only a rhythmless dance with your image, and the shallowness discourages them. Then, they get fatigued. They eventually either blandly tolerate you, or they fall away, emptied.
Just like you knew they would.
You’ve then lost the belief that you, yourself, can be forgiven - which, when you boil it all down, is the root cause of cynicism.
And all this, because you were too chicken to even try. Too self-entitled to take a risk. All because you were too afraid to fail, or to feel loss, or pain - to openly reveal your needs.
Cynicism may - may - keep you sheltered from ever feeling embarrassed, let down, or small, but it will catch up with you later... When you find your life and your heart empty. The conventional wisdom says that if you won’t feel pain, you won’t feel anything else, either.
But as is so often the case with conventional wisdom, it’s not really true that you’ll feel nothing if you won’t feel pain. You’ll feel comfortable, serene, even powerful. You’ll feel pride in being more realistic than those fools who reach out, revealing their need, and you’ll have no disappointments. You’ll have a very quiet existence.
And you’ll never be anything more than what you are right now, because there‘s no place more quiet than a tomb. And that’s where your heart will reside: In a sepulcher of your own creation, because you didn’t have the guts to invest yourself, and perhaps be rejected. Not looking for, hoping for, the good things to come... It has to be like living in a perpetual winter.
Here’s to the spring that’s waiting right there, hovering right above us:
Open your arms to someone you love, someone who needs your forgiveness. Ask for the same from someone you’ve wounded. Unearth an abandoned dream, and pursue it.
Behold a sunset with a heart that’s grateful for the moment. And love with a heart that’s grateful for the memories. Plant your garden, and tend to it. Exhibit grace, even humor for the humanity of those around you, and be thankful for another day in which to do so.
Don’t cheat people out of loving you, and love them back - right where they stand. And if they turn away, let you down, leave you feeling mocked… Well, you’ll survive the true fools of the world. You’ll grow wise from the experience, if you don’t hide yourself away.
Live with your heart wide-open. The one thing you must know, to avoid falling into cynicism, is this:
Be careful of asking for nothing at all - because that's what you'll end up with.
See you next time.
Integrity Health is a franchise company residing in New Hampshire. We specialize in health coaching centers combining fitness with weight loss to optimize and promote optimal health. We are also the national purveyors of the EZCOACH Fitness Prescription System licensed by fitness professionals.