Everything demands trust.
And it begins early. My daughter's very first steps accompanied her hanging onto the slight thread I'd used to get her to believe she could continue without anyone keeping her from falling. My first two-wheeler ride went kerflooey after my father announced, "I'm not hanging on!"
Without trust, there can be no relationship, no risk-taking, no rest that gives way to acceptance of the magic that truly makes life worth living.
And so, we're discovering in this "boundless" information age that an assault on truth has left us with nothing. How can we trust what to believe? When all we can seem to count on these days is deliberate distortion, how can we trust in what's true?
What certainly seems true is that we live in deeply cynical times.
Healthy skepticism is one thing, and we realize we need to take the word of politicians and used car salesmen with a grain or two of salt. When we discover that our priests, our teachers, our cultural icons have let us down, our world begins to shatter.
Optimism, be gone. When bitterness sets in and sarcasm takes hold, the downward spiral begins.
There was a time when the word of avuncular Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley was reassuring, but getting our news from less dispassionate sources spinning sour leaves us wondering why everything outside their orbit seems to have gone awry.
And so we've come to paint with a broad brush "the media"and the "crooked politicians," ignoring the reality that there are plenty of politicians and journalists, along with dedicated preachers and teachers, who we lump in with scoundrels.
Worse, there's a deliberate attempt on the part of some politicians and those in the "news" business -- I won't dignify some of those radio shock jocks or TV commentators by describing them as journalists or newspeople -- to deflect attention from their own behavior by lambasting "fake news" and promising to "drain the swamp" when in fact they themselves constitute the biggest part of the problem. And rather than offering solutions for bettering conditions, they add to the cauldron of cynicism that drags us down further.
Excusing their own sordid behavior by falsely claiming "everyone does it," the denizens of doom drag us to hell ... slowly, by repeating their acidic line, so we hardly know when we've arrived. Students can find their theses online and may believe "everyone does it." Prohibitions against unwanted sex, or pushing the limits of what's wanted, "happen" all the time, just like "locker room talk." Right?
Our faith in humanity is shot with our interpretations of a dog-eat-dog world.
So does cyber bullying by Internet trolls and a constant spewing of hate speech by broadcast thugs who attack their target du jour, further diminishing our collective humanity and destroying what little civility remains in society. The tone of snarkiness that's come to pervade entertainment media also contributes to the curse we're saddled with.
But given everything we've been through in recent years, from our Snapchat Twitter culture, the Arab Spring and the 2016 election to our present madness, is it any wonder the world is the cynical sewer it's become?
We live in an age when each day brings a new discovery of child abuse by a priest that connotes a violation of trust, a new accusation of sexual harassment by a public official or sexual misconduct by someone we thought we knew. To assist with this descent into shamelessness, there are damage control consultants, reputation repair specialists who believe that by rebranding, waiting it out and laughing it off, a good PR and marketing campaign can obviate the need for an earnest apology, self-reflection or taking responsibility.
And for anyone with means, an entire opposition research industry exists to take down anyone who might get in their way. All of this all breeds cynicism.
There's plenty of legitimate cause for turning toward cynicism, for our failure to deal with runaway climate disruption and environmental degradation -- and the politicians, media and corporate manipulators who deny science and turn a blind eye to the impacts on our ecosystem. The pervasiveness of money in politics and the influence of corporate lobbyists, campaign spending and overwhelming control by big banks and big business to avoid paying taxes and park fortunes in overseas tax havens erases the American dream and and affordable higher education.
And with rising unemployment and a growing gap between rich and poor, we seem to struggle as a society with what we can believe in, unless we buy into the hollow commercial ho-ho-ho that tells us to just keep shopping.
Given the current administration's contempt for the rule of law, trashing the notion of a government that works for justice, and a self-serving disdain for truth itself, cynicism may appear to become a populist cause.
Breaking down the cynicism requires a positive act of faith, knowing that a single creative action can be harder than tearing down what's around us. Yet it holds the possibility of good.
Watching some of my neighbors not long ago reach out to dispel seemingly stark differences with people who voted very differently in 2016 was such an act. The two groups, from very different cultures, sat down to break through the negative stereotypes they had about one another, to tear down the cynical one-liners by engaging in hours and hours of trust-building exercises and active listening to one another's deepest stories.
Around them, the cynics broke in to say any progress they were feeling in coming to understand each other was a farce, that they would never change each other's politics, that the effort was meaningless. Trust, for them, was a bust.
And so, how do we correct this cynicism cyclone, which for our culture is really more like a black hole of depression that becomes impossible to dig out of?
If we feel negative toward everything around us, how can we feel good about ourselves and throw ourselves into the hard work that truly needs to be done for the good of the world?
And maybe that's the real reason for all of the cynicism spewn by hateful media, self-serving politicians, hell-fire preachers and those who sow seeds of nastiness: it's calculated to prevent us from fighting injustice, combating climate change, tackling oppressing and environmental degradation all around us.
There is a bottom line of cynicism, and sadly, it's this: we become immobilized and separated from our own humanity.
Escaping the spiral, it seems to me, comes down to restoring a basic trust in humanity, some faith that there can be good in the world. And a simple question:
Can we find that which is good within ourselves to believe in, and to share, so that we can right the Earth on its axis once more?
Posted: to Poor Richie's Almanac on Fri, Nov 1, 2019
Updated: Sun, May 29, 2022