In my job at a local church, I regularly interact with older people. Sometimes we just chat before a church event. Sometimes I help put together details for a loved one’s memorial service. Sometimes I’m simply their best option for free tech support (“Have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back in?”).
My interactions make me wonder why some older people are really funny while others are really grumpy. (OK, I realize that is a huge oversimplification — you know, like all millennials are lazy bums living in their parents’ basements.) From my experience, some older people are full of quips, jokes and winks, and others seem always to be angry, and — by George! — you’re going to hear about it.
Recently in a staff meeting, someone asked one of our pastors who is a little older how he was able to remain positive, happy and outgoing while so many of his peers weren’t. How did he avoid becoming cynical over the years?
“I fight it,” he said.
The longer you stick around anywhere — a church, school, job, neighborhood — the more you see the “underbelly.” The polish for the visitors begins to fade, and the honeymoon ends. The special china is put away, and suddenly your meals are served on cheap paper plates. You see the clutter, hear about mistakes from the past and notice some debatable leadership decisions.
Since every group of people is just that — a group of people — things are bound to get messy. The myth of perfection fades eventually, and ultimately the disarray of reality becomes clearer.
With that in mind, it makes sense to me that some older people are a little curmudgeonly; most of them have seen plenty of mess. They have good reason to be concerned about the future and want things to be done in a way that is predictable and safe.
We all want to protect ourselves from pain. And if we’ve been hurt before, it’s easy to slide into an attitude that resists change and is skeptical of a bright future.
Now in my ripe old age of 30, I already see the temptation of cynicism creeping into my life more and more.
I’ve seen our church make mistakes.
I’ve seen myself make mistakes.
I’ve seen high-profile Christians do really horrible things.
I’ve seen our government, well, you know …
In an effort to protect myself from pain and dashed hopes, it’s really easy to become disillusioned and distrustful.
It’s easier not to get my hopes up.
It’s easier to stay where I am and not risk failure.
It’s easier to poke fun and roll my eyes.
It’s a lot easier to complain, belittle, point fingers and just get angry.
As much as I want to hold on to hope and optimism, I feel a dark spirit of cynicism creeping in with each broken promise and each bad decision.
Before cynicism moves in and takes over, I want to take my pastor’s advice and develop habits of fighting it.
Fight is a strong word, but you can’t ignore cynicism and hope it stays away. The next time you get angry and you notice your rolling eyes, your flushing cheeks and your racing heart, gentle brushes against pessimism won’t do much good.
Cynicism is strong. It persists and reminds you of all the pain from your past. It yells how foolish you are for believing this time will be different. It tempts you to shake off hope and simply point out everything that’s wrong with the world.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” cynicism says. “This is how things are, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
When you sense those words, don’t relent. That’s when you need to fight. Change is possible, hope is worth hanging on to and situations can be different. Bottle up the energy that cynicism requires and, instead, channel it to do something that will lead to positive change.
Fight cynicism, or else you will become just another victim.
The best way
We have a lot of years to practice how we will react to the world. Will we grow old frowning and thinking the worst? Or will we learn how to hold on to hope and joy?
Hold on to hope, prepare for the fight now and, by George, I think you have a fighting chance.
Copyright 2019 Matt Ehresman. All rights reserved.