Throwing off Cynicism

A few days ago, I saw a mock high school commencement speech that made me want to grind my teeth. The speaker, a well-known comedian, spent ten minutes or so belittling his audience, telling them, in essence, that most of them are pathetic losers who will never accomplish anything, never amount to anything. He talked about them going to community college, dying in DUI accidents, and spending their lives grinding away at thankless jobs that, in the end, would accomplish nothing.

I acknowledge that it wasn’t a real commencement speech, that his purpose was to make us laugh, that, frankly, his points would have been spot-on if it had been a real graduation address. I took issue with the sketch for a couple of reasons: first, that a nationally-known comedian would suggest young people can’t make anything of themselves the way he has; and second, his implication that our dreams are just a waste of time.

There’s a word for this kind of thinking: cynicism. It’s a trap too many of us fall into, this idea that no matter what we do, no matter how big we dream, we’re doomed to live our lives in obscurity, never accomplishing anything that matters. Never mattering ourselves.

I disagree, and I reject the cynicism that too many of us believe.

It’s a product of fear. When we contemplate doing something other than pursuing the same daily grind we’ve followed day in and day out for years, it scares us. How could I do anything different? we ask. I’m already busy, already exhausted, already just barely getting by. How could I possibly do more?

It’s a valid argument. And as long as we let it trap us, as long as we let cynicism win, it will hold us.

But escaping the trap starts with throwing off the cynicism. We have to believe taking that first step is worth the effort.

Until we believe that, it doesn’t make sense to take any steps at all. So we won’t.

It’s as simple as believing we can make a difference one step at a time.

Here’s the thing: we already believe it.

How many of us have said to ourselves: if only [I could meet this condition], I could do [something worth dreaming about]? Just saying it tells you the goal is worth it.

Your condition might be valid, and you might never get past it. But doing nothing because you can’t do it all is letting the cynicism win.

Ask yourself these questions:

What can I do toward my dream if I never meet the condition?

What can I do to chip away at the condition, to make the barrier a little smaller?

What can I do today that will get me closer to my dream?

Chances are, your answer to at least one of these questions scares you. That’s the one you should do first. Share the answer with us here, then go do it.

That’s how you throw off cynicism. By doing something.

Isn’t it worth at least making an effort?

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.