Every now and again, my best friend from high school, who currently lives in Toronto, and I get in touch by phone to catch up. When we most recently met up, we recalled some of our behaviour during our formative years with some measure of embarrassment.

“Why?” I asked him, “Was it so important for me to be so angry and quarrelsome?” My life was alright then. I had a decent home and a good, if a little distant, family. I had modest life goals which would, admittedly, change over time.

My friend had a simple answer, “because we were assholes.” While I prefer to think of my younger self as a jackass, he’s not far off the mark. Other kids with similar backgrounds didn’t behave as I did but for whatever reason, I wore my cynicism as a badge of honour throughout most of my teens and twenties.

To be honest, I actually flipped between cynicism and naivety constantly. I can’t pretend I was all jaded when my favourite album in high school was Paul Simon’s Graceland, ferchrissakes.

Despite that, I spent much of my adulthood believing that cynicism is most often the correct response to pretty much everything. It’s only recently that I’ve discovered how lazy an attitude that is. It’s an instant gratification thing whereas being optimistic may take longer to pay off but the emotional rewards may be richer. And science (science!) seems to agree. Of course, there is a line between being optimistic and being deluded, just as there is there is a line between being a healthy skeptic and being a nihilist.

All of this is to say is that I’ve been making a concerted effort to bring more positive influences in my life. This has to do with adjusting my personal attitudes but mostly it has to do with not seeking out things on the internet that I know will do nothing but anger me.

So I stopped reading Mark Steyn in Macleans. He’s a man of no real accomplishment, other than a few books about musical theatre, who asks us, week after week, to join him in his seething hatred of the evil Mohammedans. What can I do about that? Leave a comment on the website, telling him he’s wrong? He’s an inconsequential boor.

And I probably should be angry about this homophobic woman but Charlie Brooker does such a good job skewering her that the situation would hardly be improved by my own mute outrage.

And while I’m at it, I should probably stop overdosing on The Huffington Post which gets me outraged over things that occur in a nation that I don’t live in. At least with Rabble, when I get pissed off, I have option of emailing my MP, which I do, all the time.

After dinner is complete, and the lad has his supper, and we take our nightly walk, and the garbage and recycling is taken out, and the lad has his bath, and the floor is cleaned, and the lad has his bottle, and I read him his story, and he’s put to bed, and the tea is made, I have, maybe, two hours a night of quiet time to myself. So maybe it’s not a constructive use of my free time to watch Real Time with Bill Maher. Even if I generally agree with him most of the time, I find him to be such a sneering dick that it makes me question my own beliefs.

I’m tired of snideness, bile, and smugness as reflexive attitudes. And so I’m going to be seeking the positive, the optimistic, and the constructive.

Yes, I know, I’ll be searching for a while.


5 thoughts on “Negative

  1. You’re coming up on 40, right? Right. This effect is highly predictable, as is the fact that your eyes are about to start going and there’s a high probability of you drinking more wine and less beer in the coming years.

    The cynical/negative post-40 transition can go either way, and I’m glad to hear (for your sake and your family’s) that you’re turning towards the mellower option.

    Don’t worry; your capacity for outrage and cynicism will still be there. All that changes is that you become way more selective about when it’s worth getting all up in that, and when it’s not. (He said, happily and without cynicism. Ha!)

    • My eyes have been going for years. My taste in wine runs to “red” and I don’t drink much of anything these days. I do prefer ales and stouts to lager, however, and think I may finally understand scotch so I think get what you’re saying.

      (Speaking of which, next time you’re on the East Coast – Picaroons Timber Hog. Lovely.)

      Anyway, anyway, anyway. I guess this is all a reaction to the fact that political discourse has become a shout-fest since, oh, around 2000 or so. The internet helps provide an echo chamber so we don’t have to hear contrary opinions or, when we do, it’s in the context of being mocked. It doesn’t seem healthy so I’m trying my best to turn away from it and toward something a little more productive.

      Now, I’m just reserving my cynicism for my job. 😉

  2. I kinda came to a similar revelation when I started getting to know my mother’s second husband. He had a deep hatred for everything. Extremely jaded bordering on becoming the Unabomber. No, seriously. They found a place out in the country away from contact with neighbors and others. I had to take a step back and say, I kinda agree with many of his opinions but do I really want to become so full hate. That’s really not a way to live. Since then I’ve fallen back into that rut of cynicism sometimes, but I’ve been pretty good at bringing things back into perspective.

  3. I’d say it’s the usurping of most of your free time (not to mention a little certain someone who’ll be looking to you to help shape and form his outlook on life) that really puts the priorities in order. So far, I’m (gasp!) not watching as much TV and (gasp!) only on the ‘net 1 or maybe 2x per day for about 15 mins each time. Who has time to get into other people’s BS, just for the fun of it?

    Also, it’s easy to be the miserly cynic when all you have to answer to is yourself and the other adults around you have their own fully-formed thoughts, opinions and sense of self (and can basically tell you to piss off when you’re annoying). Nothing like having a kid to take the lazy out of your life – in every which way and form sadly.

  4. Pingback: Turn down the Suck. Turn up the Good. « Shatnerian

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