All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.
I was quite a bitch in college, by all accounts. At least, that was many people’s impression of me. Not so much in high school, and not so much after, largely due to the birth of my son- but for those four years, I was pretty mean. I was FUNNY, and I wasn’t usually unkind to my people, but in general? I was quick to take offense. I was fast with a cutting comment. I’d wager my good friends spent a fair amount of time saying to outsiders, “She really is very nice…”
I was ANGRY, and my anger was just below the surface- not even skin deep. It didn’t take much to set me off.
I usually assigned the worst possible intentions to people, and almost never gave the benefit of the doubt- unless someone treated me like crap. Then it was endless chances- forever do-overs.
God forbid a guy be NICE to me. I had no use for that nonsense. I broke up with boys who were too good to me. I hurt them. I wasn’t about to put up with that bullshit. I wanted the guy who was unavailable, or awful to me. Who cheated, or treated me like a plaything.
My Favorite and I met on the first day of freshman year. I am SO grateful we did not get together then. I would have hurt him. Badly. It’s what I did. If someone treated me with respect and genuinely seemed to like me, I immediately lost respect for them. I treated them with disdain.
I wince to this day when I think about it.
I used to really value sarcasm and cynicism. I’m not talking about satire or comedy. That has its place. It is a way to make us laugh through our anger at the staggering injustice of the world. I love me some Daily Show. There were certain administrations and world events I wouldn’t have made it through were it not for Jon Stewart.
I’m talking about people in real life, who move through the world determined to see the worst in people. Who are too cool to show unbridled enthusiasm. Who think being jaded is a form of intelligence.
I think part of it has to do with not being vulnerable. Cynicism is like a coat of armor, and sarcasm is a way to make yourself feel big by making someone else feel small.
I was contemptuous of people who were earnest. I was suspicious of that kind of open-heartedness. It was scary to me- to live that way would leave me incredibly exposed and I was not about to take that kind of chance. It would leave me open to being hurt. To mockery.
I am so over that.
I don’t think I was opposed to being joyful, back in the day- I simply don’t think I believed it was an option for me. So I protected myself. I hid behind cleverness and snark. I struck out before someone could come at me first. Because my assumption was always that they would, in fact, come at me. Come to think of it, I think I probably did a fair bit of that during the last few years of my marriage. I didn’t really think of that when I began writing this, but as I reflect, I am realizing that the less I felt able to be vulnerable in my relationship, the more I would go for the joke at his expense.
That’s just not who I want to be.
My favorite people these days are the ones who are unabashedly enthusiastic, genuinely excited. Seeking JOY.
The Bob Goffs of the world. The Jimmy Fallons. My friend Angela. My friend Jim. My cousin Mary. I have had so many new people come into my life in the past couple of years that have taught me the value of open-heartedness.
I am drawn to those people, now. I’m still not sure I’m always instinctively ONE of them, but I am trying. Every day. And I find myself trying to strike a balance with the people in my life who are wired the way I used to be. I get it, but I also feel the need to shield myself from that energy, sometimes. It’s not good for me. It wasn’t good for me when I was in it, and it’s not good for me to spend much time in proximity to it.
I used to think people were earnest and happy because they just didn’t GET IT.
Now I know it’s because they’re BRAVE. It is BRAVE to be earnest and open-hearted in this world. It takes such courage to be inundated with all of the terrible things that happen, in the news and in our lives, and still choose joy. Because I believe joy is a choice. (And PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, know that I understand that the opposite of depression is not joy. The opposite of depression is to not be suffering from depression. I am not implying that someone who is clinically depressed can simply smile their way out of it. I know better.) I know joyful people who have had terrible hardship in their lives, and I know people who come undone and become mired in anger when they are inconvenienced.
Life is really hard. It is so much harder if you are looking for reasons to be pissed off. Because you WILL find them. But if you are looking for joy, for the good in people and in this world- you’ll find that, too. In spades.
It’s why people love Buddy the Elf so much- He’s LOOKING for it. Everywhere, and in everyone. So, he usually finds it. He may be the single most earnest character ever seen in a film. I watch Elf pretty much on a loop from Thanksgiving evening until Christmas. With Buddy, there’s no pretense. No attempt to look cool. He just goes through life being kind, and seeking joy, and magic, and, of course, syrup.
Smiling’s my favorite.
Buddy the Elf
PS My Favorite says I was never a bitch, but there’s an outside chance he is blinded by love…
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Humans Are Weird says
Maybe it’s just me, but this article seems quite cynical toward cynicism. I jest. Sorta. Transcending a naturally cynical nature is bloody tough. But it does feel much better, being less cynical that is. And that’s gotta count for something, surely.
“It is BRAVE to be earnest and open-hearted in this world. It takes such courage to be inundated with all of the terrible things that happen, in the news and in our lives, and still choose joy. Because I believe joy is a choice. (And PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, know that I understand that the opposite of depression is not joy. The opposite of depression is not suffering from depression. I am not implying that someone who is clinically depressed can simply smile their way out of it. I know better.) I know joyful people who have had terrible hardship in their lives, and I know people who come undone and become mired in anger when they are inconvenienced.”
SO. VERY. TRUE. I learned this same lesson being in treatment for my eating disorder as many times as I was. Joy is a choice. You can walk around everyday in this life filled with doom and gloom. Or you can choose to live with the joy God gives us. Sure, it is hard to do. It is hard to get to that point if life kicked you hard. But is it not nice to know that we can get there? That we can choose to live a life of joy?
Awesome post! Thank you for sharing.
Yes. I’m with you all the way, from cynical youth to embracing joy in the present.
Reblogged this on A Sawyer's Daughter and commented:
This is good. Really good. Cynics (you know who you are) — Read and Heed.
Allan G. Smorra says
There is a lot of wisdom in this post and in the link to Glennon’s. Thanks for bringing this subject to our attention. Ω
So well done and so poignant – love it, Laura.
Another great one.