Our world has its naysayers. Talkback radio relies on them. Your Facebook and Twitter feed brings them to you. Your work, church, sporting club or family probably has its fair share of people who talk down the world around them. It’s a strange phenomenon, but sadly makes up a large part of the Australian psyche.
It’s funny because none of would like to be called cynical, but I think that’s exactly what many of us have become.
I know this, because I realised the other day how easily I can become cynical. It surprised me, because I pride myself on thinking the best of people no matter the situation.
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Some time ago I was attending the graduations of a group of students who were completing a personal development course. All the graduates give a short testimony of how the program has changed them. As I listened to student after student share their story, I couldn’t help but feel this negative outlook well up inside me. I was thinking things like “They really haven’t changed. After we leave they’ll probably keep doing what they were doing“. Or, “Nice story kiddo, but I doubt you have changed.” Or “That’s a touching story about your parents and your relationship, but if you weren’t such a rabbit, you wouldn’t be in this predicament.” Can you see how ugly and yuk those thoughts are? It embarrasses me to even read it.
The good thing was, I caught myself. I caught myself having such a rotten attitude toward the kids and their own personal experience. An experience for them which is true, genuine and authentic. They aren’t lying about whats happened for them, simply being vulnerable and sharing how they have changed.
I don’t even know where it comes from.
My family and close friends would call me incredibly positive. And yet, the jaws of cynicism and negativity captured me.
The problem I realised, is that we are all cynical at one point or another and it runs deep in our country. Around every corner, behind every front door, is a cynic waiting to be released. The way we treat our politicians reveal we really don’t believe what they say, let alone think they’re acting in our best interest. When our friends share some good news with us, we can often turn negative, cynical, or even jealous. (Think, a single person being told by a close friend she is engaged. Then a year or two later starting a family. That type of news.)
I’d like to say this attitude was a once off, but I fear it has become a subtle habit that appears at irregular intervals to trick me into thinking it isn’t an issue. I fear that my negative outlook on life and others has quelled my ability to influence those around me. In fact, I’m sure it has to a certain extent.
When I see the worst in people, even if it’s confined to my own thoughts, my outlook concerning that person has changed. I have established a pecking order, and I subtly go about bringing them down so I can be elevated. I make them look worse so I can look better. All while hoping the cynical tendencies that rise up within me disappear.
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The cure for this condition is readily available. However, it can’t be bought over the counter, magically prayed away or endeavouring to try just that little bit harder. No, it’s developed through blood, sweat and tears. As we constantly choose the best in people, to see them through the lens of possibility, honour them with gratitude, and bestow upon them purpose and meaning, they rise up. They become fully human, and so do we. So do you.
It’s a work in progress, and it needs to be treated as such.
Some days, it feels like I’m trying to tame a lion. It seems impossible. But I know it must be done. I know that if I continue to speak words of life and have actions that uplift people, cynicism has no leg to stand on.
I know I’m not alone in this. Skeptics, doubters and pessimist abound in our country. In many ways it’s become the default position for our communities. But we need to turn the tide.
Our world is crying out for people who can tell a better story, share a better story and lift others into their best story.
Bringing this sleeping monster to the surface is the first task. Committing ourselves to the improvement of others and thinking the best of each other is the second.
The fruit of these attitudes promises a better community and the cynical behaviour that permeates us will remain dormant.