Posted on August 7th, 2018

Remote Senselessness – Pessimism vs. Cynicism

I’ve had people call me negative, which we all are from time to time, but in large part really isn’t true (about me). I’m not a pessimist, I’m a cynic. Pessimists have a lack of hope for the future (though I don’t know if that is entirely unwarranted these days). Cynics believe that people are motivated by their own self-interests, and often distrustful of others’ sincerity. I’m the latter. But I hedge that claim: I consider myself a cynical optimist (whether or not that is true or possible, well, I’ll let you decide). While I see the world as filled with people who are largely motivated by their own ends, that doesn’t mean I don’t have faith in the possibility of something better (whether or not I think that is realistic is another story…). I’m like Sisyphus, always pushing the rock up the hill, only to be flattened by it when it inevitably rolls over me and I have to start all over again. But I don’t give up, or at least I haven’t yet. But why folks have told me I’m negative is something I’d like to tease out here, because if so, I’d like to change it.

Let the good times roll!

I was at the bar with a bunch of “friends” not too long ago, and one of the drunk gal pals cornered me and told me I was negative, and asked me why this was so. She kept telling me all the things I need to do to improve myself, how I should behave and what I should say or do when I interact with other people. In her diatribe against my negativity, she was actually quite negative. It wasn’t lost on me at the time, though, as I really wanted to ask her how her little lecture was supposed to make me feel. Was I to return home at the end of the night and feel good about myself, committed to turning over a new leaf? More likely I was to return home downtrodden and beaten, and to have my disposition reinforced. But I’m resilient, I just extracted myself from the picture and made note not to hang out with her again when she got that wasted…

I have noticed that I’m driven by the joke and my cunning, and that I often take no prisoners in my attempts at comedy. I have a cutting wit and focus when it comes to comedy, so I swing for the fences – collateral damage be damned if you get in my way. Admittedly this often leaves undesirable impressions on others about who I am; so in that sense, I should work at curtailing my angle of attack. I was told to count to ten before I talk as a kid, but that was always to the detriment of comedy, so I never took that advice. I’m still wary of losing out on those zingers, so I imagine it’ll remain hard to shed. And I think my innate social awkwardness further prompts me to machine gun fire my “comedy,” but alas it has the unintended consequences of alienating me from many, apparently. Fortunately I pepper enough self-deprecation in there to establish that no one is out of my reach, myself included. In another life I was an insult comic or a roaster. Maybe I should be reincarnated as such again…

But I’m not a pessimist. I guess I’m just more of an asshole. But I’m indiscriminate in that, so I’m an equal opportunity offender. I guess if I’m pissing off everyone, no one can be pissed off that I upset them (or anyone else) on an individual level. Perhaps I do lack a little hope for the future, but I’m not “woe is me” nor am I backing down from the fight. As Winston Churchill once said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” I’m pretty sure a pessimist would not adopt that stance. Prove me wrong.

But I am cynical. I don’t have to look too far outside myself to see where my motivation lies. I don’t believe that altruism really exists; we all do good things for others because it makes us feel better, too. And that’s okay. Let’s just be upfront about that. And before you provide your own examples, yes, I do see examples of people throughout the world doing great things that far more benefit others than themselves, but let’s just say that the folks in that column are far outnumbered by those in the other one…

And where does the “optimist” part come in, you might ask? Well, the fact that I get up every day and stick to my agenda of trying to make even the most minute of incremental positive difference in the world has to count for something. I’d like to think someone’s life will be for the better because of it. It is an odd juxtaposition, a strange paradox, weird bedfellows, and quite the conundrum; if I were to shed the cynicism (well, I simply wouldn’t be me any longer), would I become just a happy-go-lucky knucklehead with a stupid grin plastered on my face all the time? No, I’m not equating optimism with stupidity; I just question what would remain of my inner self if I extracted such a core aspect my being…

So let’s make a deal: I’ll try to be less cynical (and less negative when and where that applies) if you’ll quit being so judgmental of those that are not as rosy as you undoubtedly are. Because for me to be less cynical, I have to truly believe that you (the royal you) are less greedy, more in tune with the world around you, more aware of the fickleness of your nature, less likely to be wasteful, more committed to caring about the environment, etc. So, really, most of this change is riding on your shoulders. It’s you, not me. I’m simply a mirror of the collective selfishness of the world, and you’re shining awfully bright right about now…

Marco Esquandoles
Intrinsically Motivated

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