I suppose I owe you an explanation of what exactly an “optimistic cynic” is, should one exist beyond hipster irony. I have branded myself this after a great deal of thought. The question about the glass–half-full? half-empty? It seems a little simplistic to me. If it does it for you—“I’m an optimist! Super big YEAH for a half a glass of something!”—then I am a little suspicious of your intelligence. If you are going to get all weepy about the glass being partly empty, well, go suck that egg somewhere else. Sure, it’s half-empty, but I’m pretty sure we can DO something about it if you stop whining for a minute.
It comes down to this minor point: Optimism and cynicism are in a struggle for my immortal soul. Optimism is a form of humility. The optimist believes that others are probably doing the right things, that the world will work out, because they feel somewhere inside that they are not the pinnacle of creation. Those sunny optimists are always ready to believe that someone outside of themselves could, probably even DOES, have a good answer. The right answer. This is very, very silly, but bless their little hearts anyway.
The cynic is inherently arrogant. She can find a problem with your plan in five seconds flat, has no reluctance to tell you about the problem, and harbors a suspicion that you will pretend to listen, then go off and do your damn fool thing anyway. I worked for a company at one time that tried to “value” this as a necessary part of progress, despite it being very annoying. I did well there. I also worked for a company that nearly fired me for it (that, and my lack of appropriately dangly gender parts).
That experience led to a year of pretending to be someone I was not, in order to keep my job. It was transformative and awful. I had to keep my know-it-all, how-dumb-are-you, that-is-the-worst-idea-ever mouth shut. FOR A YEAR. I still knew that the folks in charge of the projects were wrong, and I still knew that my idea was smarter, better, more efficient, etc… I just didn’t say anything. I learned to take orders. I found another job and QUIT. The partners were sort of shocked, because they hadn’t seen that the cynic was still there, chafing at every stupid command.
The transformation was this, however: I listened. I had to hear out the idea/opinion/thoughts of the people in charge, and sometimes, it was fine. It was good enough, and it was easier. I didn’t love it, but I learned to trust a few people, and I learned some things from them. In this new and humbler incubator, the repressed optimist stirred, stuck her hand up out of the primordial ooze, and claimed a breath of life. Couldn’t put the silly tart down after that. She keeps popping up. “That’s the dumbest thing ever, but it just might work! Let’s try it!”
Some amount of cynicism is a requirement in the world we live in. You could believe all the stuff in your e-mail. You could have lots of friends in Nigeria that you help with a little cash. If you hadn’t sent that chain letter out to 200 of your Facebook friends, you probably would be bald and impotent! Great job! Coconuts are a miracle! I know, pretty snarky, but in order to avoid the bad actors with bad motives, it’s necessary to evaluate a lot of things with the presumption that the “person” on the other end is all-in for themselves.
That said, it is just as necessary to operate with a degree of optimism. If you don’t have some hope that things are going to turn out alright, how do you get up in the morning? How do you touch a doorknob, knowing that half the people who touched it before you probably just pottied and didn’t wash their hands? You have to grasp that knob like an old friend, and believe that whatever germs and crud are living on there will get along with you just fine. Having children is the Xtreme version of this. I can’t think about all of the things that are going to go wrong there long enough to write about it. I just hope for the best and try not to screw them up too badly.
Where does this leave me when I face another day of washing approximately six million Disney-branded plastic dishes? I am still going to see all the things that are wrong with your thought/idea/project/baby, and if you catch me at the wrong moment, I will tell you all about it. Most of the time, though, there will be enough sweetness to keep you hopeful that somehow, it will still all be okay.
PS. If you like the term, by all means use it. I have a feeling a lot of us GenXers are in the same boat. The same poorly constructed, taking on water, probably built by one-armed orangutans, just might make it to the other side boat. We need some sort of secret handshake.