2019

Rising above cynicism

In ancient Greece, I would have been—might have been—a skeptic. Today, I am a skeptic but have found myself slipping into the modern version of cynicism.

I’m in good company. Many pine for the day when we can engage in political verbal jousting without the need to remove breakables and sharp objects. And enjoy a brew during or afterwards.

In addition to my annual New Year’s resolution not to make resolutions, I’ve added one more: Kick the nasty cynicism habit.

Cynicism says a pox on any notion that offers hope. It grabs one’s psyche and pulls him/her to the depths.

In Colorado, the empowerment of problem-solving, progressive, pragmatic leaders led by Governor Jared Polis gives Coloradans hope because Polis et al do not see government and the private realm as enemies at war.

The national scene is tougher nut to crack. Still, one needs to try.

To that end, if I were Senator Bennet, I would give Attorney General nominee William Barr the benefit of the doubt that he would treat the Mueller investigation ethically, legally, and transparently, despite the high probability he’ll do what he can to can it, and vote to confirm him.

During the Senate hearings in response to a question about how the POTUS intimidates and treats his subordinates disdainfully, Barr replied, “It might give me pause if I was 45 or 50 years old, but it doesn’t give me pause right now. I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong.”

A kid of 45 or 50? Zounds! That’s grandfatherhood territory.

Barr seemed to imply sexagenarians and septuagenarians grow a firmer moral backbone and are less susceptible to being bullied into compromising their principles despite copious evidence that men of great-grandfatherhood age routinely traverse the dark side. To be generous, perhaps what Barr was suggesting is that with age, the proclivity to be bribed or morally emasculated merely abates rather than dissipates.

Barr is, as I am, of an age, as my doctor’s assistant phrased it. Career? Been there, done that. The drive for a grander future for a life lived, well or not, has waned. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean the departed zesty passion needs to be replaced with something emotively powerful such as cynicism. It’s not as if a vacuum that needs filling is left.

For sure there’s much that doesn’t pass the laugh-test such as T-Mobile CEO John Leger’s insistence his opting to stay at the POTUS’s D.C. hotel had nothing to do with currying favor in his company’s quest to merge with Sprint. Still, one can be cynical about certain people and claims without falling into the cynicism trap.

A century ago, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov researched what is now classically called Pavlov’s Dogs. He discovered dogs would salivate—conditioned response (CR)—to a bell—conditioned stimulus (CS) once they associated the bell with food.

We now know humans exhibit similar behaviors. What pushes your buttons on the social/cultural/political scene?

A quick verbal Rorschach Test:

Respond to the cue “Broncos!”

Fans will likely react based on how they feel about the team’s situation. Non-fans will probably shrug their shoulders.

Now, respond to “Trump!”

Did you shrug your shoulders? Not likely. What then was your CR to the CS? Frown? Smile?

Merriam-Webster defines cynic as “a faultfinding captious critic.” Cynics are not born; they’re conditioned. They’re classic party-poopers, the ones who cause non-cynics to quickly look for an escape route when they approach.

One need not live a life of ongoing, even permanent, helplessness, despair, or moral outrage. As it is with any addiction, overcoming cynicism, which is a CR to a CS, takes conscious intervention. It requires not caving to the craving for outrage. Leave that to the uptight. Your blood pressure will drop, you’ll live longer, and you’ll get invited to more parties.

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