Cynicism is easy. It gives us a seemingly legitimate set of reasons not to help others, not to trust people, not to reach out, and not to care about how things are going. It even allows us to adopt a kickass persona of jaded indifference. We get to say cool things that make us seem wise and above it all. We are a hovering, indifferent God, not quite understanding the fear and drama of the silly mortals surrounding us.
I think a lot of this stems from a sense of helplessness in the face of the overwhelming suffering present in our world. It is our way of lashing out at so many things that affect us but are beyond our control. It is comforting to say that cops are all racist assholes or that Black Lives Matter protesters should be run over if they are keeping us from getting to Whole Foods or that we should nuke ISIS or nuke ourselves because of our colonial misadventures in the Middle East. Donald Trump supporters are just xenophobic, young earth creationist, Nazi morons who are voting out of prejudice and fear, and anyone voting for Hillary Clinton must be a pie-eyed Social Justice Warrior who has never left their dorm room or farm collective unless it was to use their welfare to buy cigarettes. All of these statements are easier than engaging the fact that everything is shade of gray and that there are no easy answers to any of it. Cynicism is the costume of the desperate and the futile and the lazy.
My cynicism emerged from these things, combined with a shallow knowledge of Zen Buddhism and a fascination with the stoic, hardened characters from television and movies and comic books. It shielded me from having to honestly engage difficult issues and situations, without having to acknowledge that I was dodging them out of fear and an unwillingness to move into pain with other people. It helped me process the world, but not in a way that was useful to anyone. Cynicism has really failed me over the last few years. I try to retreat back into it from time to time, but I can’t maintain it for very long. Really, its arrival just signals the need to take a step back and rest and get my mind straight.
It may be from having a young child again, but I find that I am tremendously affected by things involving kids now, to the point that I avoid news articles involving bad things happening to them. The pictures of the little boy in Syria with his hands up because he thought the camera was a gun and the other little boy washed up on the on the beach and pictures of refugee children sleeping in the woods, huddled together against the Scandinavian cold, bother me for days and weeks, and I cannot find any way to rationalize them away or be indifferent. I am also forced to acknowledge that I am powerless to help them in any real way.
It would be easier to say something about how this is just the way things go or about how nature is cruel or war is hell, but it isn’t right. I think kids affect me more because I cannot find any way to believe they brought this to their door. This isn’t cool though, there is nothing more un-hip than giving a shit about children. Freaking breeders.
I have a lot of cynical friends who make terrible jokes and act jaded and like nothing matters to them, but how they spend their time tells a different story. They actually engage the world, and many of them are working in professions or volunteering in capacities that get to the heart of these issues. They have passions they are pursuing and projects they are engaged in and they hustle all the time. These projects may not be something others see as charitable or meaningful, but at least they are living life and using their time and they haven’t checked out. I would rather see a façade of cynicism on someone who is doing stuff than the vaguely desperate surrender I see in so many others.
What are you cynical or hardened about? What social or political or world issue pushes you to dismiss it because it calls up an uncomfortable emotion for you? Is there a way you can lean in to it instead of trying to avoid it?