Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Nature of Cynicism

There is one item of self-aggrandizement to get out of the way, and then on to the blog: I have been interviewed in regards to my new-ish, Royals-only blog over at Royals on Radio etc. Obviously, I am not often interviewed, so this is noteworthy if only for that reason. I'm sure this will be the last interview that is asked of me, so feel free to waltz on over there.

Now that that is out of the way, my brother called up on the way to the Cities for the weekend (he is stuck working in St. Cloud right now--an undesirable place to land in his judgment) and posited the question as to why we (he, myself, and to a slightly lesser extent, my sister) were so cynical in light of our very normal upbringings. This wasn't meant as a negative assessment of ourselves or our states in life, but he found it odd that we could be enriched (how's that for a positive take on cynicism) with such cynical gifts while people we know who enjoyed largely less stable childhoods have turned out much more wide-eyed and optimistic.

Perhaps it is the same trait* in humanity that leads the poor and infirmed to cling so tightly to their gods, invoking his name with a fervor that other less slighted persons do not appear capable of.

*And I'd hate for this statement to be misinterpreted as insinuating that the poor and infirmed, or for that matter the spiritually-inclined, are somehow less intelligent. That is not what I am getting at. I think it is more a hope that in the next life things will be better, which to this cynic is probably much more reducible to a coping mechanism than a show of lacking intelligence.

So I shall ask this question: What is it that produces such cynicism in people who have not, by and large, been dealt a shitty hand from the start?


Weibel said...

In the words of Joni Mitchell, perhaps, "You don't know what you got until it is gone? It is hard to understand what others have gone through, since you did not experience it yourself, and perhaps you become cynical to things, because you can't relate to other people's experiences. Or perhaps you are cyncial because you had it so good..and realize that not many have had it as good as you..and that seems unfair..why can't everyone have had what I have had..I don't know..good blog question though...

KRD said...

At the risk of being waaaaay too confessional on someone else's blog--I once had almost this exact conversation with a therapist, who suggested that it was a fairly common occurrence amongst kids of stable families. His theory? That it is comparable to the phenomena of rich kids who feel a kind of lack of worth/lack of deservedness in regard to money. These kids will often either distance themselves totally from the money, or spend it like crazy (almost as if they are trying to get rid of it), or engage in some other self-destructive behavior.

He thought that there was something in seeing that you had something that other people did not, and realizing that it was sort of luck of the draw, and then needed a coping mechanism to deal with some sense of guilt that comes with being--ultimately--a lucky bastard.

I like it as a theory because it could explain why I was talking to the therapist in the first place.

Little Brother said...

Seeing as how I'm the one who asked the question, I've been thinking about it for a while. All of this talk about us seeing people with much less and feeling ourselves to be not worthy, I don't really buy (in our circumstance) because most of our friends had similar upbringings. Aside from friends from broken families, they still [usually] had loving parents (and sometimes more). Coming from a carefree, middle class, bedroom community where every kid played baseball and swam in the summers, went to good schools, and usually went on to at least get some kind of post-secondary education, we're all doing about the same.

Obviously, we know people who aren't as lucky as us to have our childhoods, but I think that's the main reason why I asked this question because there doesn't seem to be a whole lot separating us from our friends aside from us not having cable growing up, yet all three of us (somewhat) seem to be of the same mindset.

KRD said...

Sure. I was just discussing this with friends from high school recently--I didn't know anyone who even had divorced parents (or a working mom) until jr. high. Most of our parents were involved in the schools, we all ran around the neighborhood essentially on our own in the summers. We all did tons of outside activities.

But it seems to me that that is part of the being lucky. Not only was it like that in our families, but also in our neighborhoods (and mine was a long way from yours, but sounds sort of similar).

In terms of comparing yourselves to your classmates--well, I would assume that you guys were smarter than most of them. And that, somehow, your parents fostered some kind of critical thinking (my parents did this by acting--from the time that we were small--like we were intelligent, interesting people. And they just interacted with us that way.)

So it is (as most things are) just some sort of mixture of environment (parents, circumstances) and natural inclination (native intelligence).

Not, of course, that I really have any right to speculate--not knowing your family at all. But I find the topic really interesting, and I know that I've had similar conversations with my own siblings.

Little Brother said...

I think it's safe to say that's a pretty reasonable assessment. When I got to college I quickly realized how I had unfairly given people too much credit for common knowledge. The number of people I met that seemed competent was much much less than I had assumed. But I think that can go back to how the people we were around growing up were competent.

I won't comment on whether we were smarter than other people aside from saying that we all had good heads on our shoulders. We all did well in school and it was relatively easy for the most part, but the intangibles I think would be where we might have had advantages.

In talking with our mother about this I think it may have something to do with our grandparents. Our grandpa lived in small farming towns in the Midwest, but served in WWII which I think peaked his curiosity about the outside world. He (and our grandma) passed that on to their kids, who then have passed it on to theirs. Our grandparents were much older than most of our friends who had younger grandparents and wouldn't have served, and had that experience. This is probably getting way too far into the periphery of this conversation, but I think that may have something to do with it, too.

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