Back in 1971, the musical duo Loggins and Messina came out with “Danny’s Song,” an innocent ballad about love and the future. I remember listening to the lyrics, “Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you, honey, everything will bring a chain of love.” My response? “Oh, sure. What are you going to do? Live on love?” Yes, I had become a 13-year-old cynic.
Maybe cynicism is a phase that teenagers go through in order to seem cooler than they are. But mine carried through into adulthood, and it still hovers in the background of my personality. And I think I finally know why.
A cynic is a disillusioned idealist. My 13-year-old self had so many romantic notions. I devoured romance novels and fantasized about being swept off my feet by a Mr. Rochester type. I carried a photo of Michael Jackson around in my wallet and dreamt of one day being Mrs. Michael Jackson. Yet already at that tender age, I realized that life is hard and one needs money to live. If love really meant never having to say you’re sorry, we’d all be in trouble.
Cynicism is a kind of mental and emotional armor. If I mock something, I can mask the fact that I really care about it. A case in point is the way my sisters and I would provide running commentary while watching beauty pageants. We were ruthlessly critical of the women parading around in swimsuits and spouting platitudes about world peace. For me, the sarcasm masked the fact that I would have loved nothing more than to be so prized for my beauty that I was part of a national or worldwide contest to proclaim the most beautiful.
Being cynical is also common in the arena of politics. The disillusioning effects of dirty campaigns, corrupt officials, and the need to be rich in order to have a chance at winning elections all serve to make many people turn away from politics altogether – or to look at every politician as a con artist. This might explain, at least in part, the very low turnout for most U.S. elections. For instance, Illinois’ governor’s race this year was a case of holding one’s nose and choosing between a billionaire who had done very little to improve the state in his previous term and another billionaire whose previous dealings smacked of corruption. It’s no wonder cynicism flourishes in modern society while idealism languishes.
I’m not knocking realists. It’s important to see things as they are and not always to be viewing the world through rose-colored glasses. If we don’t acknowledge our failings and those of our leaders, we won’t make any positive changes. But I miss the youthful enthusiasm I used to have for causes. I miss dreaming big. Perhaps as I get older, I will return to my childlike state and become a hopeless romantic once again.