Young Cynic in Action

At a recent gathering, I was able to see a young cynic in action. He contributed little to the conversation, except to snort occasionally, and make comments to show his sophistication. We might be fooled by the machinations of the powerful, he was saying, but he certainly wasn’t. His eyes were open to the agendas, the sabotage, the conspiracies that made the world we lived in a con game, in which almost everyone is losing while a few win big. He could see it all.
He’s newly adult, out of high school for only a few years and shifting from job to job. His attitude seemed like a suit he puts on to be a grown-up, in the absence of any other signs.
He doesn’t realize, though, that most of the rest of us at that table are aware of the many ways there’s a man behind the curtain, pulling the strings. We know this is a rigged game, in many ways, and that all of our efforts may be for nothing in the long run. His observations aren’t really anything new.
I’ve made his arguments in the past, and many of them I still make. I don’t object to illuminating the dark corners of our world; it is an incredibly important work, essential to creating change.
But there is an inherent throwing-up-of-hands is this particular brand of cynicism. He goes through life using the fact that things aren’t fair, aren’t the way we’ve been made to believe, as an excuse for whatever difficulties he’s having. In a way, he’s been sucked into the illusion as much as those of us he sneers at, just at a different level. Why try to do anything, when the deck is already stacked against you? So he goes to whatever job he has, he goes back home, he plays video games, he reads up on what’s wrong with the world. And then he does it again the next day. And the next.
I reject that way of living, utterly and entirely. It is taking the knowledge of how the world works, and not doing anything with it. He’s not happy in his life, regardless of how clearly he can see. He has nothing to work for. No one to work for. Nothing to build.
Maybe having a family forces me to work for change, even if it is a seemingly impossible task. Maybe seeing the years pass by so quickly, feeling the inadequacy of my lifespan, gives a certain impetus to my efforts. Maybe I just have a different way of looking at things. Maybe I’m just a hopeless optimist.
But I think cynicism is just as bad as blindness. Sure, things are difficult and will always be. But that doesn’t excuse us from a responsibility to keep moving forward and to fight against unfairness and oppression and all those men behind curtains. We don’t have to keep walking towards the cliff, once we see it, even if all the rest of our culture continues on in lock-step right up to the edge. We can create something different. Built something hopeful. Make changes that will ripple through the fabric of our culture. Take action.
Even if it makes no difference in our world, it makes a difference in our lives and in our hearts. It gives us a purpose. It changes us from consumers and blind followers and jaded cynics to creators and producers. To citizens and artists. To people who live whole-heartedly for that which we love.