I’ve been thinking about Cynicism lately. Sometimes it seems like there’s just so much of it out there, as if the collective expectations on humanity have plummeted so much that we just aren’t shocked or surprised anymore when people do wrong to one another. Even in the little things…especially in the little things. This might be true – an accurate observation. Then, quite probably I’m projecting much of my own cynicism into the mix. It’s one of my many character flaws. You see, I have the misfortune of habit of looking at the world around me and not seeing it so much for what it is, but for what it could be. If you’ve never done this trust me, it’s a dangerous proposition. It challenges you to find the goodness in people. At the same time it makes that same job all the more difficult. And when you fail in this endeavor the cynicism starts to creep in. And after it’s settled in well enough you develop a different view of things, where the expectations on people are well below what they probably should be because to hope for more would only lead to perpetual disappointment, and ultimately a very sad view of the world around you.
Have you ever found yourself wondering why there’s so much unhappiness in the world? I think it’s actually contagious, which if this is true might partially explain the epidemic. Is it possible to have an epidemic of unhappiness? I think so. But what does that mean really. Clearly it isn’t possible for everyone to go about being peppy and joyful all the time. After all, there’s a lot of serious business to attend to. But that’s not what this is about. Look around; pay attention next time you’re out and about. It’s something deeper than this. Maybe it’s just my sphere of existence; maybe I’m misreading things. I don’t think so.
But if all this is true, if the world really has become deeply cynical and unhappy…what do you do with that? How do you respond to it? Do you join the club, let it overtake you? Kind of hard not to if you’re paying any attention. Much easier to lower your expectations. Write it off and tell yourself things like, ‘That’s just the way it is’ or ‘Things are never gonna change’ or ‘It’s normal for young people to behave that way’ or ‘This is just the way I am.’ Hmm…Well if you’ve read this far then you may be thinking that this is all very depressing (or you disagree and think things aren’t nearly so bad). Aren’t they? Could they be better? Couldn’t they be much better? Remember, I’m not talking about the big stuff, like genocide, totalitarianism, widespread denial of basic Human Rights (those are topics for another day). I’m just talking about the basic way things are nowadays – the way people treat one another, how we talk to one another (or deliberately ignore one another), the kinds of public behaviors we deem acceptable now, the kinds of things that qualify as ‘funny,’ how we treat the elderly, how we treat our women, how young men treat young women. Looking around and paying attention to these things can really make it tough not to get cynical. Because they really could be better. Probably they could be a lot better.
But maybe the real trick is figuring out what to do with it. Instead of getting cynical about it; or worse, joining in and adding to the misery, what if there’s another way. Not a big sweeping ‘Let’s change the world’ kind of way but something much smaller and more personal. I wonder if it’s possible to be able to look at the state of things, feel sadness about it but choose not to let it drag you down. Is this possible? I think so. I hope so. In fact, I bet you there’s someone out there right now who already has this down pat. Maybe it’s because they’re more optimistic than you or I, maybe they just have a lot more faith in humanity, or maybe they just have a gift of loving and caring about people with little regard for the other person’s merit. It isn’t one of my natural gifts to be sure. But I’ve seen these people – even had the fortune of bumping into them from time to time. And it reminds me that this whole cynicism thing doesn’t have to overwhelm a person after all, that there’s a choice in there somewhere.
Even for those of us who aren’t blessed with the gift of always seeing the good in people maybe there’s another way. Maybe we can make a choice, a simple choice to remember that even if things seem so far from where they could be to remind ourselves that we don’t have to let it consume us. To not let it dictate our behavior toward others. Maybe it’s possible to cautiously (with good judgment) give more people the benefit of the doubt – instead of assuming upfront that everyone is selfish, or has an ulterior motive. Not easy, even less so for some of us. But I think probably this is doable. It’s a small, simple, conscious choice that probably presents itself to most of us every day of our lives. And you know what. Even if we only managed to pull it off half the time I bet we’d be doing ourselves and everyone around us a favor. To see things for what they are, but to not add to the bad stuff, and to not let the overabundance of bad stuff drag you into depression and despair…
…now there’s something to work toward.
And to those who do this naturally, who probably can’t even explain why or how they have so much love and compassion toward others…you are a true blessing in this world. I know you’re out there even if you are rare and rarely appreciated. I’d like to say, Thank you for simply being you.