The time was 9:58 pm on July 25, 2016. Senator Cory Booker took the stage to deliver a speech to the Democratic National Convention crowd. His speech would be highly reviewed and would have Washington buzzing about the potential of a future President. He had many memorable lines but something he said that night struck a particular chord with me. It wouldn’t get much attention but the words were as powerful and as true as anything ever spoken.
“My fellow Americans, we cannot fall into complacency or indifference about this election, because still the only thing necessary for evil to be triumphant is for good people to do nothing. My fellow Americans, we cannot be seduced into cynicism about our politics, because cynicism is a refuge for cowards and this nation is and must always be the home of the brave. We are the United States of America. We will not falter or fail. We will not retreat or surrender – we will not surrender our values, we will not surrender our ideals, we will not surrender the moral high ground.”
Cynicism is defined as “an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest” or “an inclination to question whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile.” We live in a culture consumed with cynicism. Go to happy hour near any office park. Take a look at your own Facebook posts from the last year and it might surprise you. You might hear these comments at work or school:
“It doesn’t matter anyway”
“Why talk to him, he is just going to do what he wants to do anyway.”
“Why do I need a piece of paper (degree) to say I can do a job?”
“I am going to do all this stuff and no one is going to even look at it.”
“Leadership Development is all a bunch of pie in the sky bullshit.”
“My vote doesn’t matter.”
The words Cory Booker spoke that night were profound because we are all victims and purveyors of cynicism. We have all heard something like this in our lives and said to ourselves “Yeah, they are probably right.” We don’t realize how much cynicism has an impact on our daily lives. The reason we don’t start writing that novel is because the cynic in us says “No one will ever read it.” or we think “What the point?” We roll our eyes at our companies core values/mission statement because our inner cynic says “Yeah right” or “I have heard this before.” We never truly hear when people we care about promise they will do better because our inner cynic tells us it will just happen again. We don’t vote because our cynic in us tells us that our vote doesn’t count and politicians will just do what the person with more money tells them to do. We think self-improvement just way for people to sell us books, sell us services and get our money. We think terms like self-awareness and growth mindset are worthless leadership jargon that is just something people say to sound smart. (I wonder at this point if I am being cynical about the level of cynicism in the world)
I am guilty of this too. I used to be extremely cynical. The reason I know what cynics say and feel is because I said or agreed with all of the statements I used as an example. I started college after my military service. This was ten years after I graduated high school because I believed it was just a piece of paper. It took me years to pick up my first business book because I believed it was all B.S. It took me years to even start writing this blog because I thought “Who cares what I think?” and “No one will ever read it.” I thought getting involved in politics was useless because I wasn’t a rich lawyer. In short I was a coward. Cynicism was a refuge for me. It gave me an easy way out. It let me off the hook. It alleviated me from having to do the hard work of writing 500 words a day…from going to class after class and getting a college education….from knocking on 1000 doors to only get 100 votes. It takes hard work to get past cynicism and start doing anything that you are not guaranteed success. Getting past cynicism is only the first step but an all too important one. Then comes the hard work of belief and action.
What I am asking you to do today is not to remove all cynicism from your life. This would make you gullible to actual scams and dishonest folks. In my business I still wonder who the real leaders are and who the “fakes” are. It’s important to have a healthy skepticism of people and things. Cynicism is when it goes too far. I have to actively stop myself of going into that mindset when I hear a new idea that doesn’t fit within my worldview. I work to make sure these thoughts don’t stop me from fostering relationships or working towards a goal. What I am asking for you to do is believe in something. If you don’t believe in your company’s core values can you believe and use one core value? Can you suggest your own core values or add onto them when talking to your team? If you believe your vote doesn’t count, can you donate to an organization that fights for a cause you believe in? You will only get so far by telling people what you don’t believe in.
If you are cynical about everything then you will achieve very little in life. The cynic is always apprehensive….always suspicious. They often see everything that can go wrong and look for the negatives. They question other people’s motives and character. This can lead to a very lonely and unfulfilling existence. The data is overwhelming. Positive and un-cynical human beings have more friends, have longer lasting friendships, go on more dates, are more productive and make more money. They are just happier people.
The wall of cynicism can never truly be destroyed but we can put some holes in it. Just like everything else it will take training and asking the right questions. Breaking down the walls of cynicism will not be easy but it is possible and will lead to a fulfilling and happier life. Here are some suggestions:
- Ask yourself these two questions: What do I believe in and why do I believe in this? Ask others you trust and love. Am I a cynical person? Becoming less cynical starts with you. By asking yourself and others these questions you can start your journey of insight.
- Read – Literally the more you know the less cynical you will be. Read about your beliefs. Read something that contradicts your beliefs. Read History about politicians like Thaddeus Stevens and John Lewis who fought injustice and equality their entire lives. Read History to know the context behind political decisions and what ordinary citizens have done to overthrow ruthless dictators. Read psychology and neuroscience to understand why humans behave and act the way that they do. Read about business leaders who follow and live their company’s core values and inspire their organizations to join them. If you do this it will be that much harder to cynical.
- Connect- Human beings are social creatures. We thrive when we connect to others and we deteriorate when we separate ourselves from human beings. Connecting with human beings shows you that the world is full of amazing individuals and over time that will make you less cynical. Most importantly, connecting is good for your health. Recent studies have shown that loneliness in more detrimental to your health that cigarettes and poor diet. We have groups for anything and everything. Book clubs, Cat lovers, Coffee fans, support groups, craft beer snobs, heavy metal listening the list goes on and on. You are not alone.