The new cynics: From critical thinking to positive action
All I ask of you, especially young people…is one thing. Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism – it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.
– Conan O’Brien
As I look back upon my 20s (now
five months 8 years into my 30s), I would have to say that those ten years were defined, in part, by the practice of critical thinking. Whereas my teens years were all about going with the flow in so many ways, my four years at a Christian university (followed by six years of marriage, more school, moving / travelling around & becoming a Dad) introduced me to different ways of thinking and looking at the world. Nothing was taken at face value any longer; everything began to be questioned and looked at from different angles.
In many ways, I believe that this was a good skill to develop. It allowed us (for I believe that I speak on behalf of many of my peers) to begin to truly wrap our minds around what it means to be a decent person, to consider the reality of grave injustices many face on a daily basis, and to uncover fresh ways of helping make an increasingly messy world a better place.
In short, a new hope that things do not have to be the way that they are is springing up and taking over because of a refusal to merely go with the flow.
While this has been happening, however, something less grand has been bubbling beneath the surface and has, at times, become the more dominant sentiment.
cyn·i·cism An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others.
What I have found in my own experience is that the more I have engaged in the process of critical thinking, the more I have come to expect and accept the negative. What I mean by that is that it has become so easy to sit back and criticize that which I deem to be not up to whatever standard I have created for the world around me.
Critical thinking has, at times, morphed into critical living, whereby something is always wrong with anything and everything that does not jive with my new way of thinking, and this has come to affect my attitudes and actions.
For example, I have experienced a very long period of time wherein I could not sit through a church service without coming out with a list of several negative points. Rather than coming to the house of God to worship and join together in community with fellow believers, I would sit there and stew over this theological point or how the worship was being led etc. I couldn’t even step foot inside a Christian bookstore because I simply could not stomach some of the titles being sold as, well … ‘Christian.’ (Yes, I too have been guilty of judging books before having actually read them.)
And I don’t think I am alone. Look around, and you can see this propensity to point out the negative just about anywhere these days, particularly in the world of my generation of ‘Christians.’ And while it is good to question, I am coming to realize that I have been missing out on a lot lately. My first inclination has become to pick at things, and as a result, I have, in many ways, been guilty of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
I do believe that followers of Jesus are called to think differently about the world, to speak out against injustice and to be a Church that lives according to his Way. I believe that this involves thinking critically and calling into question traditional modes of … well, just about everything.
However, I also believe that we do a disservice to that mandate by focusing too much on that which is wrong with the world, often mainly among ourselves and with a view to demonstrating to others that we are the ones that really and truly ‘get it.’
I believe that followers of Jesus should be quicker to point out that which is good in the world, to seek out and illuminate the subtle glimpses of the kingdom that rise up among us, and to be united in our pursuit to show the world that this different Way is a movement defined more by positive action than negative banter.
Which brings me to Conan the prophet. Cynicism – constantly focusing on the negative – has gotten me nowhere, and will do the same for all of us. In truth, I have missed out on a lot because of my propensity to point out the negative. My desire is to be kinder, more loving, and quicker to embrace that which is good around me. While I do think it’s important to think critically and not take things at face value, I also believe that the challenge of embracing and creating a better world is far more rewarding than constantly pointing out the negative and picking at each other.
Be kind. Work hard. Seek, embrace and create some good in this messed up world. Maybe, just maybe, we can all (mercifully) come to see that we don’t have all the answers, that our way is not always best, and, in so doing, open ourselves up to be blown away by goodness at work within us, among and all around us.