The Seductions of Cynicism and Pessimism

Last month, I started to read my friend Kyle’s blog from the very beginning and I finished catching up today. Kyle’s reflections on his struggles with weight and self-esteem are very close to my heart, as are his reflections on their destructive offspring: negativity. Or as I see it, those dreaded twins: pessimism and cynicism.

Pessimism I have defamed before. It is literally the worst.

Cynicism is—actually, I just looked up the etymology of the word and now I have no idea what I was going to say. The word cynic comes from the name of a certain philosophical school of thought in classical Athens.

Antisthenes, that founder of the cynics, had a lot to say about virtue. He didn’t like hedone, which hurts my heart a little, but the guy knew something about virtue. But the modern notion of cynicism is a 19th century corruption leaving us with this horrible word grounded only in distrust and disingenuity. So thanks to some philosophical assholes 200 years ago, cynicism is this emotional monster that corrupts everything it touches—even its own history—and leaves nothing good in its wake. And these negatively twins are enticing, and easy. I’ll say what we are all thinking: pessimism and cynicism are sluts.

Pessimism and cynicism let us release all of that anger and frustration we feel on our worst days. And there are people that live on it, rely on it even. They are the people that expect to be disappointed in absolutely everything, and just want another reason to be. There is satisfaction in it. I get that. But it’s not wholesome. The release is fleeting, and you are left feeling empty. So you crave more.

The hook is that it boils down to passivity. Pessimism and cynicism are all about what others are doing or not doing. You can be the victim. You can be the wronged individual. These feelings, and this mind frame once you’re in it, aren’t easy to shake.

The alternative is to be active. You have to try. You have to do something. Positivity and activity are the alternatives, as are their wholesome progeny: optimism and idealism.

Maintaining those is hard.

You have to find ways of feeding your hope and faith in humanity, and yourself, and goodness. And, you have to do that while under the constant barrage of human inadequacy. People, if nothing else, are great at disappointing themselves and others. It’s that whole fallibility thing.

And sometimes people are just fucking assholes.

Last year, I started to feel my positivity waning. After working in a coffee shop for a couple of years, tiny balls of fiery rage would grow with every inconsiderate or just plain mean-spirited customer. That ball of rage was part of my cue to look for a new job. I was starting to feel like a mean person And as time went on, and the job search continued, my senses of idealism and optimism continued to diminish. I was keenly aware that I needed to take a leap and try something new. I needed to get out of the vocational and emotional rut I was in and try to get closer to my happy job.

But, the only real way out is by trying, and then, by trying harder.

Last August, I was hired part-time to work at a tutoring firm. I went down to less than 2 shifts a week at the coffee shop, and I started to find my positivity. I was just so much happier doing something new, something else. But, when I was at the coffee shop, it didn’t take much for the ball of rage to ignite. Last month, the tutoring firm asked me if I’d like to work closer to full time. I sent my bosses at the coffee shop my month’s notice the next day.

Wednesday is my last day at the coffee shop, or any coffee shop for the foreseeable future.

After 3 and a half years, I am leaving the place that gave me my first job in Portland and introduced me to some of my best friends. I am going to take with me all of the life lessons I have learned there. The most important of which is that you choose to let pessimism and cynicism overtake you. It is the easy way out, and it is your choice.

If you don’t like how you’re feeling, if you aren’t happy, if you have lost your idealism and optimism, do something to change it. And then, when you get it back, do everything you can to maintain it. Because it’s about you. Find those people, places and things that sustain your positivity. It will be hard.

So try harder.

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