Don’t be so cynical.
It’s a message I’ve heard from several people in my life — my parents, friends, professors. Now I’ve heard it from my president.
“You don’t have time to be cynical,” Barack Obama said in a July speech. “Hope is a better choice than cynicism … I do not believe in a cynical America. I believe in an optimistic America that is making progress.”
At first, this speech seems like more of a glorified version of “Haters gonna hate.” After all, this comes from a lame president who certainly has his fair share of “haters” thanks to his lackluster foreign policy and corrupt administration.
Darn it. There I am being cynical again. But is cynicism really that bad?
I’ve been blessed with the amazing opportunity to work for the campus newspaper all four years of college while learning from a top-notch history program at this university. But that certainly has not quenched my inner-cynicism. As a journalist, you learn things you don’t necessarily want to know, thus increasing your negative perceptions of people and organizations. Being a historian has the same effect. Ask me how I feel about Richard Nixon after taking Dr. Smith’s Vietnam class.
But what if these negative perceptions turn into positive actions? What if I take my mistrust of how things are run and turn it around so we can progress? What would Obama say about that?
“Cynicism is fashionable sometimes,” he said in that same speech. “You see it all over our culture, all over TV. Everybody likes just putting stuff down and being cynical and being negative, and that shows somehow that you’re sophisticated and you’re cool.”
I justify my “cool” cynicism by arguing that it makes me a realist. If I express my negative feelings about the coffee in the dining commons, aren’t I just being realistic, considering DC coffee can’t compare to Dunkin’ Donuts coffee? I’m not being negative. I’m just facing reality.
This is where my cynicism can have a positive result. Say I complain to Sodexo about the DC coffee tasting like motor oil, and I have 300 students sign a petition agreeing with me. If Sodexo positively responds to my complaints with better coffee, my cynicism reaches its goal. Progress. That’s certainly “sophisticated” and “cool.”
But cynicism goes too far when your negative thoughts constantly consume your daily actions. Cynicism reaches its limit when it completely consumes your personality — to the point where nothing satisfies you, to the point when “negativity” turns into “hatred.”
But without a little cynicism, we’re not being realistic. If we perceive everything as “perfect” now, we will never improve our lives. Imagine if the university never listened to the cynical students and continued conducting its manners without ever being grounded in reality. We’d probably still have washing machines from the 1980s. Being cynical is not necessarily a bad thing, just as long we use it to progress our lives.
In the words of Obama, that’s change I can believe in.
Jared Huhta is a senior history education major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column reflects the views of the writer only.