For anything good to happen in your life, or indeed, in the world around you, you have to be open and willing to learn. You need to have hope, and the ability to trust. The greatest triumph of last week’s election is how Canadians came together to change what they could no longer tolerate. Our cynical apathy had to end, or the Canada we loved would be irreparably damaged.
Of course, the true irony is that we came together positively for a negative reason: to oust Harper.
We live in a time of deep cynicism, where irony is viewed as intelligence. Only the clever, we believe, know that the world is a terrible place, and that it’s better to be wry than wide-eyed.
When I was a kid, I had a dream. I wanted to be a singer. I didn’t hunger for fame, I just wanted to sing. And I did, for many years. It was wonderful!
What wasn’t so wonderful was the cynicism disguised as righteous scepticism, which said that pursuing a career in the arts was unrealistic. Despite proven talent and a fierce hunger to follow my dream, I allowed myself to be shuffled off to secretarial school, so that I would have something to ‘fall back on,’ when my dreams were inevitably and cruelly crushed.
In hindsight, I understand the worry and fear that hid behind the cautionary tales. I DID meet some unsavoury people, and there really were some nasty folks out there who wanted to take advantage of a naive innocent.
But what that distrust also did was stop me from potentially meeting good, honest people, who might have nurtured my talent and helped me to have a career. I’ll never know, as I took the path of least resistance for the next ten years before finally emerging from my cocoon of self-doubt.
Faith, hope, love, warmth, loyalty … these are all traits we now consider naïve and passé.
I can remember exactly when cynicism entered into mainstream media – it was personified by Michael J. Fox, who played the character of Alex P. Keaton, in the sitcom Family Ties. He was seen as the voice of reason in a household headed by his two liberal parents, former hippies. The entire cast, actually, perfectly represented the clash of values emerging in the 80’s, as the hippies grew up and out of innocence, and Reagan began snipping away at the American Dream; it was conservatives vs liberals, with Mallory added in for laughs as a vacuous consumer who epitomized the “Greed is Good” principle.
Alex was portrayed as the level-headed voice of reason, able to see through the tricks of the world that his dozy, optimistic parents could not. Irony, cynicism, a general distrust of others’ motives, a world weary attitude light-years ahead of his actual age … this was the new intelligentsia in sitcom form.
But cynicism is not intelligence; it’s a way to close one’s self off to new emotional or intellectual experiences, and to excuse missed opportunities. Cynics live a life of doom and gloom, where nothing ever changes, because “that’s just the way it is.” They have decided that it’s hopeless to even try for any sort of improvement, as any attempt is just a waste of time ending in abject failure. Cynics live a life of low-grade depression, their only joy resting in letting everyone else know that it’s useless to try, so why bother? Optimism, they’ll tell you, is a cruel joke, that only the young and foolish can enjoy.
Cynicism, disguised as bitter irony, has become the norm to many. Where a healthy dose of scepticism might suffice, we’re seeing instead a vicious distrust, kneejerk pessimism, and a feeling of captivity to a society ruled by materialism and corporate greed. A feeling of inevitability segues into passivity and apathy. We’re all flawed, we tell ourselves, some are just flawed on a larger scale.
This point of view is just as damaging as being over-optimistic. It is precisely what has allowed those forces to stealthily infiltrate society, as pessimists assure optimists that those with the money are always right, and will always win, so there’s no point in even trying. You begin to justify, in your mind, that abuses of authority are warranted by those somehow better than yourself by dint of money or power. You’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, and it no longer tastes so much like lies.
Being cynical doesn’t require courage, it requires an egotistical belief that you, out of all humanity, have completely experienced the world, and have found it lacking. There is no room for the wisdom of the ages, for anecdotal tales of the power of love, for seeking out new ways of advancing mankind. Cynics don’t climb the highest mountains, or boldly go into unknown frontiers.
Optimism, on the other hand, takes a great deal of courage. It requires jumping into life with both feet, aware of, but accepting of what may come your way. Your journey will be good and bad, painful at times, ecstatic at others. The ebb and flow of any life comes with no guarantees, other than that it will be an adventure, and that yours will be solely your own experience.
The funny thing, though … or call it irony … is that within every cynic there is an innocent who’s been hurt by life. They are so sure that there’ s always a catch, that they are therefore the easiest to fool by a bona fide sociopath who’s figured out how to capitalize on the cynic’s very cynicism.
George Carlin once said that, “within every cynic there is a disappointed idealist,” and I believe that to be true. But what the cynic has most to beware is of treading a path so narrow and circumscribed that he finds himself with “nothing to look backward to with pride / And nothing to look forward to with hope.” –Robert Frost
(originally published Oct 25/15, DBAWIS – /bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/roxanne-tellier-hope-springs-eternal/)