Saturday, April 17, 2010

BEYOND CYNICISM


My '60's generation now deals in cynicism, perhaps breeds it.  Can we move beyond it?

EVERYONE IS SO UNTRUE. It occurred to me recently how profoundly cynical those of us who were born around 1960 have become. We disbelieve sincerity, reject the notion of certainties, question the validity of most authority, doubt heart change is really possible, and are sure most every one acts primarily out of self-interest. We take things at face value but don’t value that very much. Billy Joel’s lyrics reflect the perspective: 

“Honesty is such a lonely word,
everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard
and mostly what I need from you.”

CLOUDED YOUTH. My generation’s cynicism is not without reason. One of my earliest childhood memories is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was four years old. I recall the extended national mourning that ensued. Those of us who moved from childhood to adolescence in the 1960's and 70's absorbed the social-emotional impacts of the Vietnam debacle, student killings at Kent State University, the struggle for civil rights, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and, to cap it all off, the Watergate scandal and resignation of the disgraced Richard M. Nixon. And looming silently as a backdrop to this drama, was--is still--the omnipresent specter of a nuclear mushroom cloud.

FROM IDEALISTS TO CYNICS. So, young idealists called to "ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country," became, progressively--or regressively--the drop-out generation, the drugged-out generation, the self-absorbed generation, the self-promoting generation, the ever "seeking" generation. We have pushed the divorce rate to record levels. We have clogged the courts with frivolous litigation. We blame everyone and take little responsibility. We use communities and people for our benefit and then discard or disregard them. It appears that our collective generational response to the socio-political traumas of the 1960's is a full-blown and cancerous cynicism.

POWER SOURCES ROBBED. Reflecting on this a few weeks after a vibrant celebration of Easter, it occurs to me that cynicism might be a legitimate response, were it not for the Resurrection. It seems to me that Easter robs cynicism of its power sources. Whereas cynicism would say we can’t count on anything, the empty tomb indicates there’s a least one thing that can be counted on. Whereas cynicism asserts that nobody is true to his or her word, the Resurrection indicates at least one is. Whereas cynicism charges that every act has a selfish motive to it, Jesus’ complete self-giving issues a counter. Whereas cynicism says nothing’s going to change the way it is, the Third Day has started a change that offers transformation and hope to every individual, community, and culture.

COUNTERING CYNICISM. Any of us would be foolish to gullibly accept at face value information and "values" in a culture that breathes and breeds cynicism. At the same time, we are foolish to yield an inch to cynicism’s ultimate claims. We are invited, as beneficiaries of the Resurrection, to live in counter to the widely-accepted cultural excuses and half-truths that pass for “the way it is.” More than that, it is the privilege of people who live in Easter faith to share the counter-claims and authentic life with fellow citizens who do not yet realize that the way, truth, and life has been opened for all.

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