Balancing Honesty and Optimism

Or: It's Cool To Be Jaded!

So this is a topic I've been thinking about on and off for a long time. Like maybe a number of years that I can't calculate right now because I'm sleepy and my brain refuses to count. More than 5 years anyway.

Yes. So I've been thinking about this for a while.

But then Catherynne Valente tweeted a thing and now I've got a bee in my bonnet.

Not because of her tweet. No, I liked her tweet very much. (How many times do I have to say "tweet" before it's obvious that I'm an old?) I think it would be fantastic if people did deep, radical method acting of loving kindness. It's much harder to portray convincingly than bitter edginess.

But the thing is, loving kindness doesn't sell, does it? And too, too many of us don't actually believe in it, deep down. We tell ourselves and our children things like "turn the other cheek," and "do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

"Be nice."


Hey, those are great, yeah?

But it's not cool, is it? No one in the history of ever has gone to see Vin Diesel take a punch and respond by listening attentively and giving hugs. Punching things is much more efficient storytelling. Hugs aren't typically known for their blood-pumping action.

Can you imagine? Active Listening, directed by Michael Bay.

So we've got these images of what it means to be a total badass. That's part of it.

We've also developed this bizarre idea of what it means to be honest. Honesty has become intertwined with brazen unpleasantness--but in a super cool way, guys! I'm not being rude when I say, "That show you love, that thing you do, it's actually terrible, and if you insist on still loving it, you're also terrible." I'm only being honest. It can't be honest if it doesn't offend someone, somewhere. I guess. Somehow.

The problem, I think, is that we can't stand not knowing better than other people. We think that saying, "well, actually..." is a good social strategy. We're teaching, right? We're spreading knowledge?

We're not. "Well, actually" has never (in the history of ever) been a good way to convey information to someone else, because no one wants to admit that they didn't know a thing. If I say, hey, I really like ducks, I guarantee you someone somewhere is going to pop in and advise me that they're terrible because they're birds and all birds are terrible, or because they have some of the most terrifying mating habits, or because Alan Moore dislikes them. (Have you heard his duck song? Go find it, it's great.) (You don't have to like it, though, I'll still like you.)

My point, which I'm totally getting to, is that being jaded has somehow come to represent wisdom. Oh hey, nihilism!

I don't think life has to be meaningless, though, and I don't think that honesty has to be pessimistic. I think there are plenty of good ways to be honest without tearing down other people and making them feel the way they did in sixth grade when they answered "what's your favorite movie?" with "Winnie the Pooh," and everyone laughed at them.

Hey, ducks are pretty weird, it's true. But they have feathers, and they swim around, and my kid got to pet a baby one at the fair the other day, and the smile on his face was just about the greatest thing.

So maybe next time someone says something, and they're wrong about it, or you know more about it, or you disagree with them in some way, maybe wait a second before saying "well, actually..."

Maybe instead say something like, "what do you like about that?" or "Could you explain why you think so?"

Because I can tell you, I would pay good money for a movie in which Dwayne Johnson does nothing but pay attention and learn about people.

Probably he's also holding a baby duck the entire time.