Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Goodnight Cynicism

The other night, I watched Conan O’Brien’s farewell Tonight Show and I had, as Oprah would call it an “Aha!” moment. Odd, I know. In a rare serious moment, Conan told his audience that he hoped that they had not become cynical throughout the whole Tonight Show debacle. He said he hated cynicism and that if people worked hard and were kind, they could be truly happy. It was a simple statement that had a profound impact on me.

The next night, as I was cooking dinner, I asked my two oldest kids, “Would you call a half of a glass of water, ‘half empty’ or ‘half full.’ My oldest, looked at me and immediately said, “Half empty.” His brother, in a rare show of solidarity responded, “Half empty!”

It dawned on me that someone had to have taught them such cynicism, and it seemed I was the culprit.

Tonight, while cleaning up the kitchen, I called my mother to chat. She told me that while she was grocery shopping today, a man who looked “quite scruffy” approached her. He was carrying a package of diapers and a small can of baby formula and asked her if she would give him some money to help pay for the items. Taken off guard, she said she told him she didn’t think she had any cash and that he should just talk to the store manager and see if they could work something out... After he walked away, she said she felt badly for brushing him off and proceeded to search her purse for cash. After finding a few dollars and tucking them into her pocket in case she saw the man again, she approached an older store clerk to ask his opinion. He told her to keep her money, that the young man was just a scam artist. She was so worried when I spoke to her on the phone. She kept saying, “I’ll feel terrible if there is a child out there hungry tonight because I didn’t buy that formula.” Apparently, cynicism breeds guilt.

I asked her what my father had said when she told him about the man at the store... My father is an eternal cynic. I just knew he would have told her that the man was a scam artist and she shouldn’t think twice about him... Instead, he told her that she should have taken his groceries to the cashier and paid for them. She said if it ever happened again... she would.

When we’re kids, we believe it all... We actually can SEE the cow jumping over the moon in our big huge imaginations. We don’t question it. We actually BELIEVE we can change the world. We are born optimists and that optimism gives us super-hero strength. We don’t feel small, even though our bodies are...

When we grow up, we become guarded. And in the process, sometimes, we quit believing in the good in people. We start questioning and second-guessing and some of us become pessimists and our strength begins to fade.

After hearing my children’s answer to one small question about a glass of water, I decided that I’m going to work hard to embrace the optimist inside me and start nourishing it.

I explained to my children the difference in the two answers to the glass-of-water question... Not wanting to be cynics (because cynicism, of course weakens super-hero strength),they quickly changed their minds. They now believe the glass is half full.

And I? Well, I’ve decided my cup runneth over ...

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