Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stave off that cynicism if you want a better society

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial Section

"Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. It's my least-favourite 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. As proof, let's make an amazing thing happen right now."

Those are the words of Conan O'Brien, the now-former host of The Tonight Show, the Cadillac of late-night talk shows and one of the most sought-after hosting gigs in the entertainment industry. Hosting the show meant that you'd arrived. It meant that you were set for life. It meant that you would meet world-famous actors, musicians, writers and others who most people only get to read about or see on TV or the Internet.

When O'Brien started the show last year, hopes were high. His lead in would be the newly prime-time Jay Leno, the former host of The Tonight Show who'd been number one forever against his rival, David Letterman.

Television networks can be unforgiving and impatient. With millions of dollars on the line, antsy shareholders, nervous affiliates, and advertisers wanting the biggest bang for their buck, the networks pulled the plug on Leno's new show quickly and caused another fight for who would host The Tonight Show's traditional time slot after the network decided to move Leno back to his old time.

To his immense credit, O'Brien decided to cede the time slot, wanting to keep the integrity of The Tonight Show in place. Now, Leno takes over the show again, humbled from his failure but returning to a franchise he probably should have never left in the first place; and O'Brien leaves NBC more popular than ever and with $45 million as compensation for his trouble. The only caveat: he can't work for another network until after September. (Hopefully the $45 million will pay the rent between now and then, eh?)

O'Brien's audience trends young, and his words to them about cynicism were sage advice. The consensus is that O'Brien got the raw end of the deal here (despite the huge severance), so it's easy for his fans to forever hate NBC, Jay Leno, or what have you. The truth is, NBC was simply making a business decision. O'Brien did the right thing by giving the show back to Leno and moving along.

O'Brien knows young people. They tend to be cynical. Entertainment aside, they stay away from churches in droves, not necessarily because they don't believe in God, but because they don't believe in organized religion. And who can blame them? While many of these organizations claim to exist for the good, they often spread intolerance, hypocrisy and sexism that is difficult to accept and tolerate.

If you're of French, Irish or Italian descent, there's a significant chance you've been brought up Roman Catholic. Your culture and your religion are strongly intertwined, in fact, so strongly so that it's difficult to imagine changing religions even though you may not fully adhere to all the beliefs of the church. Generally, the same can be said of the British people and Anglicanism.

Cynicism is an easy rut to fall into. Instead of trying to make changes to what exists, we give up too easily and stay away. Many people don't try to participate and change the way government works, they simply give up and stay away from the voting booths. How long will it be until we regularly fall below a 50-per-cent voter turnout here in Canada? That would be a sad day.

There's an old saying that you have to believe in something or you'll fall for anything. Don't be so cynical as to confuse archaic rules of a man-made religious organization with faith in God. They're two different things. People who know me well often ask why I go to the church I do -- even though I admit my attendance has been sketchy at best lately.

"Well," I tell them, "I look at it like a department store. I don't want to buy everything there. I don't like everything they sell. But overall, even though the head office's policies drive me crazy sometimes, they're good people. And besides, I was brought up going there and it's where I feel most comfortable, despite some serious philosophical differences." You don't have to agree with everything.

If I told my pastor everything I believed in, he'd probably nail me to a cross and have parishioners throw balloons filled with holy water at me to save my soul. (I'd just call my Martian friends to blast them with lasers anyway!)

On paper, organized religions demand strict adherence and complete belief. In reality, their pews would be completely empty if that was the actual practice -- and they know it.

If I were cynical, I'd just leave and never go back to church, but there are people they help. That's a fact. If I were cynical, I'd never vote, and give government as a whole the finger. But the fact is, we need government. And we need people who care about government. And I don't know one politician who doesn't want to do a good job and make a positive difference. Their abilities to do so can be questioned, but I don't question their intent. No one runs for office wanting to make things worse. No one.

Cynicism and the negativity that it begets are a dangerous thing. They create a miserable society of people who don't believe in anything. And when we stop believing in anything -- eventually we stop believing in ourselves. When that happens, we might as well close up shop and put a "Closed due to bankruptcy" sign on the door of our world.

1 comment:

Ray Hiltz said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Brian. It's a very easy trap to fall into especially when you get older and feel you've "seen it all before".

But cynicism is so counter productive and even more, destructive. Autocrats count on it; the less participation there is in democracy, the easier it is to take charge and push one's agenda. A certain Federal leader comes to mind.

But even personally, nothing is more boring than being with someone who thinks sarcasm is the height of wit.

Thanks again for a great post.