Take a scroll through any social media feed and it’s easy to feel depressed. No, this time it’s not because everyone has such incredible lives. It’s because everyone is angry.
The news of current events is depressing enough. But then there are people who amplify it, who glorify it, and who seem oddly satisfied by it. Whatever their political perspective, some people the need to proclaim the how bad it is and complain about it getting worse.
This isn’t to say we should bury our heads in the sand and ignore the problems around us. But how we view those problems impacts the people around us, along with our ability to address those problems.
We need optimism, but not just optimism in feeling. We need optimism in action.
Cynicism and Optimism
I’ve always wrestled with cynicism and optimism, swaying from one end to the other depending on world events, seasons, or even just how I feel that day.
I’ve sometimes equated cynics and critics with living in reality, while optimists and idealists live in a dream world.
Looking at the world at any given moment, I can find a lot to be cynical about, and also a lot to be optimistic about. But it’s more than just a cup half-empty or half-full perspective. My outlook affects how much influence I have, what responsibilities I take on, and my decisions in shaping the future.
As a cynic, I believe that powerful and nefarious people and organization run the world, and all I can do is criticize. As an optimist, I see that I can influence and impact the people around me, who can also affect the people around them.
As a cynic, I believe that the problems I see are someone else’s fault and my hands are clean. As an optimist, I take on the responsibility of resolving and restoring what I can regardless of who created the problem.
As a cynic, I see a society and a future headed towards decay and destruction. As an optimist, I know that the future is created by individual decisions, and I see a blank canvas in which I can choose to create something better and beautiful.
The views of cynics and optimists can both be true simultaneously. Those who act on it will determine the future.
Our world needs optimists who take responsibility and act. People need optimists to who believe they can do better. My kids need me as an optimist to see their problems as opportunities to do something great.
Criticism Doesn’t Need to Be Cynical
Are you that person? If you are, you probably won’t realize it, but others see it in you. The person that hyper focuses on one issue and makes every post a complaint about it.
But you’re fighting the good fight, right? You’re calling out lies. You’re trying to open people’s eyes. You’re using your freedom of speech.
Not all speech is beneficial. Not all arguments are helpful. And not all criticism results in the change we think it does.
Criticism is necessary.
When we see the severe problems of injustice and oppression, critical voices need to speak against it. But the tone of that criticism can either lead to annoyed passivity or inspired action.
Cynical criticism sees a problem and complains about it. Optimistic criticism sees a challenge and seeks to solve it.
Cynical criticism drags people down to sulk and rage. Optimistic criticism rallies people to move and persevere.
Cynical criticism spreads anger, fear, and bitterness. Optimistic criticism inspires hope, courage, and determination.
Cynical criticism is a downward spiral of finding more cracks and holes, many of which don’t even exist. Optimistic criticism is an upward climb to dream of what things can be built, many of which don’t exist…yet.
Don’t mistake cynical criticism for virtuous action.
Instead of complaining about what you see, start compelling others (and yourself) to build what you imagine.
Optimism for the Future
There’s been a lot of conversation around the future of the world for our children.
The pandemic & quarantine make us worried about how they’re being affected mentality & emotionally. Continued racial injustice makes us wonder if they will experience equality in their lifetime. The moral ineptitude of powerful people calls into question how our kids will see character & success. The recent wildfires & ongoing climate crisis makes us concerned about the livability of the world they will inherit.
As a parent, it’s a blessing & a curse that my kids see all of me. They see my best & my worst. In this season of extended crisis, my worst has come out more often. Yet even in my struggle, there’s something that I can’t let go of & have to be adamant & intentional about showing my kids: hope.
They need to see me optimistic for the future. They need to see me optimistic for people. They need to see me optimistic for them.
My children will already experience a fair amount of cynicism, bitterness, hatred, & dread from the world around them. What they need to see in me is hope.
Because that will help them forge their roles in the world with clarity. They will not be passive bystanders, they will be active catalysts. They will not see problems, they will see opportunities. They will not despair over what will come, they will dream of what they can create. They will not drag people down, they will lift humanity up. They will not see the worst in people, they will call out the best in them. They will not be cries of cynicism & dread, they will be voices of optimism & hope.
This is not to abstain from my responsibility nor my generation’s responsibility in facing the issues before us. Here’s the catch – I have to model this.
If my kids are to meet the challenges ahead of them with bold optimism, they have to see it in me. I have to look around me & see what I can solve. I have speak hope & optimism to the people around me. I have to act.
I have to take my kids by the hand & say, “See that person hurting over there? Let’s go see how we can help them.”
First I will lead my children. Then they will lead me & lead all of us.