1.9. How to Resist Cynicism and Despair

It’s fine to be cautious or skeptical. Just be sure to remember what those reactions are supposed to be doing for you.

In our current situation, we shouldn’t be surprised that folks feel cynical, or succumb to despair.

Even if you aren’t totally consumed by either of those states of mind, I bet you feel them tugging on you sometimes. I bet you have your moments when you just don’t see how we’re going to get out of this mess, or you doubt anything is ever as good as it seems, or you start to believe that everybody’s only in it for themselves, and nobody actually has any good intentions.

This is a totally natural response to what we’ve seen over the past few decades.

It’s been a time of institutional stagnation and decay. It’s been a time of mean-spirited political polarization, greedy businesses profiting off of others’ misfortune, vain, fearmongering media, and really bitter ideological struggles.

You aren’t reading it wrong. It really has been discouraging to watch. But as natural and understandable as those reactions are, they can be dangerous.

Because if they go too far, if it gets to a point where we automatically dismiss anything that even hints at being a good development, then it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because then we’re just sitting around waiting for it to fail, waiting for an excuse to undermine it or scoff at it, when we could be getting inspired and fired up and doing our part to help it succeed.

Instead of getting our hopes up when we shouldn’t, now we’re failing to get our hopes up, when we really should. And that’s a sure recipe for staying stuck in our problems indefinitely.

It’s fine to be cautious or skeptical. Just be sure to remember what those reactions are supposed to be doing for you.

It’s not about feeling smug and superior. It’s not about being the first among your friends to sneer at something that sounds promising, so you can say “I told you so!” later. It’s not about curling up into a ball, and having a pity party.

It’s about getting our hopes up we should, and not getting our hopes up when we shouldn’t. That’s it. That’s what it’s all about.

There have been a lot times in the recent past when we’ve gotten our hopes up, and gotten burned.

But that’s no guarantee the same thing will happen in the present or the future. There are plenty of reasons to hope right now. Not the least of which is the fact that all these broken promises have left everybody fed up and frustrated, just waiting for a worthy cause to come along to channel all those frustrations into.

I don’t think we’re going to have to wait much longer. The pressure’s building. The next twenty-five years aren’t going to be anything like the past twenty-five.

So stay cautiously optimistic, and keep an open mind. You’re hardly the only one with these feelings. And eventually, the dam is going to break.


This is the 21st in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *