I have this idea that, more often than not, it’s cynicism and habit which stand in the way of progress, by contributing to the status quo.
That’s not meant as a criticism of cynicism. When it comes to progress, cynicism is perfectly understandable. When you think about all the change you’ve witnessed or been promised in your lifetime, most things didn’t happen the way they were predicted to happen, most didn’t happen at all, and most of what did happen didn’t wind up where anyone said it would. When positive change is the promise, but everything actually remains the same or gets worse, well, it’s easy to become cynical.
As Washington Irving once wrote:
“I have often found while riding in a stagecoach, that it’s a comfort to shift one’s position and be bruised in a new place.”
That’s not the discomfort of change. That’s the discomfort caused by recognizing the illusion of change, of disillusionment with change. Cynicism tends to find targets, usually the people who made the promises, and anyone associated with them. All too often it seems like the blind leading the blind, that no one actually knows where we are going.
There’s a good reason for that. NOBODY KNOWS! Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. Nobody knows what the future holds! No matter what they promise, they are guessing, hoping, planning, acting as if, but nobody knows. Nobody ever did, though you may have assumed someone did, especially if that person claimed they did in a persuasive (authoritative, likeable, consistent, way that conformed to your expectations of being credible) way.
I sure don’t know what the future holds. When my daughter was growing up, there were predictions I made, but most were wishful or fearful thinking, or me gambling on the odds or likelihood of certain outcomes. And I tried to come clean with my predictions, and own up to my reasons for making them. “I’m afraid that if you don’t learn to take care of yourself, I’m afraid you’re going to wind up living in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere and you won’t come and visit me out of shame and embarrassment.” Or, I was trying to offer reassurance and comfort. “Don’t worry about that boy honey. Some day, you’ll be chasing them away with a stick.” That last prediction surprisingly got turned on its head when it turned out it was me chasing them away and my daughter brought that to my attention. And she had some predictions of her own at that point. But whatever.
I do know that if you prepare yourself for the future and do your part to create your future, you won’t have much time for cynicism, and you’ll have more fun than cynics do. I also know that hope is an antidote to cynicism, and there are good reasons to be hopeful, if you can just keep your intake of bad news to a minimum. Optimists may not have better lives than pessimists, but they enjoy themselves more!
I’m enjoying this exploration of cynicism. I’ll be back Friday with another piece on dealing with cynicism in ourselves. Until then, and after then, I’d love your feedback, comments and questions.