Cynicism - Check Your Attitude
Cynicism is as common as cat hair; it can collect on nearly anyone. It can become a toxic rallying point for all kinds of people, especially cops. We can share the same intense feelings about bad guys and the system and politics and talk show hosts, and, “I’m frustrated and angry, and maybe a little bitter, and…you too? Great! Let’s growl together.”
Pretty soon we’ve both got an “attitude” that can bore holes in a stomach lining and kill a career. But I’ve found that cynicism can also galvanize my heart harder than a steady diet of high grade cholesterol. I watch the news and I come away frustrated that my puny presence on this planet can’t really hope to make a dent in the tragedies so colorfully uttered by Tom Brokaw. The bad guys seem to be winning and fools keep getting elected. New officers graduate from the academy and they’re “gonna make the big difference out there…” Not. Within six months the world seems unsalvageable and we become its social janitors. We try to talk out our frustrations – talking it out always makes me feel better.
That is until I realize that my friend and I have just cheer-led ourselves into the murkier depths of disillusionment.
Then there is that thing called “critical incident stress.” It can crash into us suddenly and without warning, like a shark attack: a shooting, a horrific scene, a child’s tragic death. The images from a critical incident permeate my life and overwhelm my ability to cope. When it happens, I can expect strong feeling and even symptoms to appear in me – and I talk it out and take steps to deal with it. But cynicism is also a critical incident, a quiet one; not a shark bite, but more like being nibbled to death by minnows. It can be a slow inundation fed by a creeping floodwater of generalizations: dirtbags and hairballs, and all the others labels. And even though talking out your pent up frustrations is good, if they’re not tempered with an understanding of what it normal in all of life, they seep out unresolved into our office or homes, dripping onto our wives and husbands and kids and co-workers. It’s only a matter of time before they begin to drown in the same slough. They learn so well…
The nearsightedness of cynicism demands a corrective lens for the eyes of my soul. Without those spectacles, I rail at a society imploding into a moral vacuum. Without the right lens, people appear as shadows – hairballs and dirtbags, liars one and all. The country seems to be going down in perdition’s flames and it feels like I’m just the janitor who mops up its daily filth while it heaps abuse on me. But those images of life and people are blurred, for when I put on my glasses, the lenses correct my errant understanding; and what comes into focus (and this takes a little faith) is an a interesting picture. “…1 envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” a once grieved and embittered man so poetically uttered as he observed people; “…pride is their necklace, they clothe themselves with violence…so God’s people are dismayed and confused, and drink it all in. ‘Does God realize what’s going on?’ they ask…Have I been wasting my time? Why take the trouble to be pure? All I get out of it is trouble and woe – every day and all day long…When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me – [sound familiar?] – till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny…”
Another man said (quite to the contrary of modern soothsayers), “…the heart of man is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” God does. “The nations are as water in His palm…” He can pour them out whenever He’s inclined to do so. And though His methods may seem strange, from domestic arguments to global shenanigans, the ball is firmly in God’s court. People are capable of anything, but God hasn’t lost control. The nation may be life support, but its leaders are under His scrutiny. Heinous crimes are multiplying and the perpetrators are too often lauded as victims, but all will give account one day. Those that mourn, blessed are they, for they will be comforted.
I look through the polished lens and there I see the world and its people through a different set of eyes. There is a plan at work. There is perfect justice. Nothing escapes His notice. No one escapes His pursuit – even the criminal. When I chew on these ramifications, I am neither shocked nor hardened by what I see people do, or by what I must deal with. Though sometimes horribly tragic, it’s all normal; He said it would be this way (though not forever). The richest man in the world once said, “Though it costs all you have, get understanding; esteem her and she will exalt you…”
Cynicism is an attitude, but so is seeing with understanding – and they are mutually exclusive. One hurts, one heals. One is chore and condemnation, the other is duty and discernment. And it’s all a matter of attitude and which lens you are looking through. As one man put it, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…1 am convinced that life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how we react to it.
And so it is with you…we are in charge of our own attitudes…”