I think lots of people (even Simon,who knows me well) would initially respond to the question “Is Elise a cynic?” with a resounding “Do bears shit in the woods?” It’s understandable. I am not a very nice person, often assume people aren’t as intelligent than me and I love a good conspiracy about the capitalist patriarchal overlords pulling the strings behind everything from shampoo commercials to the gentrification of inner city night spots. Despite my arrogantly caustic persona, I am not, in my heart of hearts, a true cynic.
Though I have my doubts about the intellectual capacities of the swarming masses, I do not doubt that human beings are generally good, community minded creatures. I think at their very core, people want to be loved, and they want to be surrounded by people they love. To me, the fact that guilt and shame are among the most common negative emotions experienced by human beings is sign that we care deeply about the way others see us, and we genuinely want to add value to (or at least not detract value from) our small corner of the world.
I don’t know if it’s because I am a teacher, and so work with developing humans day in and day out, but my default position in an instance of insult or injury is always to give the alleged “perpetrator” the benefit of the doubt. “Grace before judgement” has been my mantra for a few years now, though I wasn’t always like this. I used to react angrily rather than respond rationally, but I have seen too many of my colleagues scold students for their disheveled uniform, only to have it revealed to them by a superior that the 13 year old’s mother has taken herself interstate for the fortnight, leaving him with AUD100 pizza money and no tutorial on how to work the washing machine.
Situations like this occur every day. The rushed and apparently “rude” waitress. The bus driver who sent the puddle spraying across your new coat, leaving you soaked. The housemate who hasn’t done their rostered chore again. The coworker who didn’t complete their share of the project, making you look like a fucking idiot in front of your manager. The cynic assumes the the worst: these are all examples of deliberately hurtful actions borne of inherent selfishness or defiant disinterest in anyone else’s needs. I don’t know if it’s “idealistic”, but I truly believe that most of the times when people upset us, they just have five million things going on in their own lives, and we just happened to get in their way at the wrong time on the wrong day.
I do think I am an idealist in that I always try to see the good in people. Not everyone can be highly intelligent, competent, perceptive, charismatic and generous. There is a reason why those traits are admired in great men and women throughout history: they are rare. The vast majority of people are just mediocre, and that isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a human thing. You don’t have to be friends with anyone you don’t like, and even your friends aren’t faultless. Everyone has something beautiful about them, it just may not be as obvious and golden. Seeing the goodness in others makes my life better too. When people whinge about everything and only focus on the negative aspects of their world and those in it, the person who truly suffers is the whinger. When someone consistently disappoints me, I just do my best to avoid them. I don’t need the negativity of being constantly shitty with their inability to be better.
My dad used to tell me, “If you meet one jerk a day, the world has plenty of jerks in it. If you meet ten jerks a day, then you’re the jerk”. I think that is good advice for the cynic. A cynic assumes the worst in people, and cannot accept any goodness or beauty without the caveat of an assumed ulterior motive. It must be an exhausting life, to be constantly reading between the lines like that. They are missing out on the myriad genuinely kind and lovely moments of humanity. Cynics do not realise that by believing in essential selfishness, they are just as ugly as the underbelly they are constantly convinced is lurking just below the surface of things.
I write tonight knowing that the blows and buffets of the world may one day lead me to believe that it is an awful place, full of awful people. I hope I can read over this post and be reminded of my (perhaps deluded?) idealism at this moment. If that dark time does come, I hope these words will make it clear that things are, actually, all right. I just need to move beyond the disappointments which inevitably occur in the crazy realities of a human life.