On cynics and dreamers and a path of ‘what ifs’.

by Jeb on 04/28/2009

Reflection comes easy these days. Which is not to say I always enjoy the results…the truth, as they say, can hurt. But in sifting through the aftermath of my professional train wreck, looking for survivors has proven a tough business. What’s worth saving?

So much of life is make believe, it’s hard to discern the truth. People - our parents, our teachers, our political and religious leaders - make us believe that there’s just one path, though the path each promotes is different. Regardless the multitudes, they all make us believe the only path that matters - our path - isn’t worthy.

I’ve thought a lot about why this happens and I’m sorry to report, “good intentions” isn’t the answer. Sure, I know that’s the name it’s given, but that’s just the commercial, not the product. The preview, not the movie.

Cynic or Dreamer…Which Are You???

For me, the answer is both. More of a cynic sandwich, actually. I can remember dreaming of a better life when I was young. Believing that the ideal existed. Sure, some of that was more escape than dream, but regardless, the idea that an extraordinary life was possible was very real to me.

Along the way, cynicism crept in. Some due simply to experiences I had, but more due to people I was exposed to. As I consider these influences objectively, from the vantage point of hindsight, I can see the undercurrent. See, to me, cynicism isn’t just about the outward and obvious displays. It’s the way it colors our motivations. Our behaviors. Our interactions with others.

Cynicism, at its worst, is the subtle insistence that our dreams are unrealistic. It manifests in our relationships. And it’s in this very subtlety that much of cynicism’s destructive power lies. Because we don’t expect it from the people we know and love. So we’re not ready for it, and we’re unable to put up a proper defense.

And so the underpinnings for a dreamer’s life are replaced with a sturdy foundation of conformity. And we begin the long and lonely walk down somebody else’s path. It’s on this path that we are introduced to the enduring human condition of secretly hoping for others to fail. ’Misery loves company’ - the ultimate cynic tag line. Not only does your success make me jealous, having not reached my own. But it contradicts a long-held (if unconscious) belief about what’s possible.

So cynics are a cancer in the body of possibilities. Worst of all, they’re not content with a single parasitic relationship. They’re contagious. They force themselves upon others, freely sharing their disease. 

I admit I’ve been part of the problem. Like any bad habit, it’s hard to kick. But the dreamer in me has made a comeback, and I’m looking to give him a more prominent role. And the thing is, it doesn’t even matter to me if the dream is reached. Because living like I believe it will be, makes me a better person. More capable of offering my very best. To my boys. My wife. My community. You.

Dreaming of Change…

Turning cynics into dreamers is a big task. And we cant rely on others to make it happen. As my friend Richard once pointed out in a wonderful ‘what if‘ discussion, “I think the solution lives in your home with you, and in my home with me”.

Some people will always choose cynicism. I get that. And I’m cool with it because I don’t think we need everyone to be part of the solution, at least not at first. Like a wave in the crowd at a ball game, it need only start with a few. And before we know it, the entire stadium is taking part.

So let’s ‘what if’ for a moment, shall we?

What If We…

  • Talked to our kids as though anything is possible, and stopped dismissing their ideas as unrealistic?
  • Validated their imaginations with sincere interest, and offered to help with a game plan?
  • Started living our own lives in a way that honors the things - the dreams - that have been held too close to the chest for too long?
  • Put less emphasis on math and reading test scores and more on creative expression and artistic discovery?
  • Began to think about education in general as an individual pursuit of purpose rather than an opportunity to indoctrinate our young people into perpetuating the status quo?
  • Made a conscious decision to embrace risk, to understand its vital role in the life of a dreamer?
  • Began truly questioning the assumptions upon which our most steadfast beliefs are based?
  • Decided to start our own wave…???

Count me in.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Alden Smith 04/28/2009 at 4:55 pm

hey, Jeb~

Reading your writing is like taking a trip in my own head. Because I expect so little out of life, I am never often disappointed. I find that at my age, the drive to succeed and “over-achieve” is ludicrous. Many years ago, a man much wiser than I told me that the meaning of life is to be happy. Put in those simplistic terms, I fare rather well.

I often ask people what skills they learned in school are useful to them today. I am never surprised at the answers. Yes, we learn to read and write, which is a good thing. But we are seldom ever encouraged to be artistic or passionate about such things as writing and painting. We are instead admonished to learn the multiplication tables and history that is slanted by textbook writers. Picasso said that all children are artists - it is only through the educational system that their abilities are often wasted. These are not his exact words, but you get the drift. In my high school years, people that took great interest in these things were looked upon with suspicion. I lived a rather lonely life as a child!

I have learned much in my time on this earth. I come from an era where you learned never to trust anyone, and that has always been hurtful to me. Yes, often the people we learn to trust do us wrong. But through learning about what turns other people on broadens our outlook. It was not until I reached a time in my life when I could truly reflect on things without the constant stress of the working world that I realized how important it is to try to understand other viewpoints, even if they don’t coincide with our own. This is what I have learned from Richard. And I am beginning to learn from you.



Get Alden Smith’s content here..Making The Transition


Jeb 04/28/2009 at 7:55 pm

Hi Alden,
Wow, you wrote a post. I love that. I wonder if that advice you got so many years ago - that the meaning of life is to be happy - resonated with you. Did you heed it? Then, or only later? It may be one of the few real truths in the world, it’s a wonder so few of us grasp it’s simple power.

I personally believe much of the challenge we face is a result of our educational institutions. But, as I pointed out in a comment on a wonderful post by Zoe, the institutions cant, and wont, change until the system in which they exist changes the values upon which it is built.

I’m hopeful that’s what we’re doing here Alden. Together, through sharing these ideas, we’re building a new foundation. That’s how it feels to me, and it’s got me dreaming again.

Thank you for helping.


Zoe 04/28/2009 at 8:18 pm

Jeb, I love that you are addressing the broad, foundational issues that I’ve been thinking about since watching that TED talk and writing the post. You are undoubtedly right in saying that the system won’t change unless our cultural values do.

These are amazing “what ifs” — embracing risk, discovery, and deep questioning. I think that the wave is starting in many corners of the world, and it will certainly be a while before the different current coalesce, but I cannot ignore the positive, quiet revolutions that are sprouting up all over. So many of us are emerging with this entrepreneurial optimism that we can create and build the society we crave, and I think these are beautiful steps in the right direction. Systemic changes are usually awfully slow and perhaps painful, but if we don’t start somewhere, what then?

Thank you, as always.

Get Zoe’s content here..Do Schools Kill Creativity?


Jeb 04/29/2009 at 12:22 pm

Hey Zdub…I agree, we have to start somewhere and frankly that’s a huge reason for me to even be in this space. I feel certain things so pationately and it’s not always easy to find an outlet for them. As you and I have discussed before, the ability to spread ideas and connect with folks far and wide, and the resulting increased understanding/decreased fear & stereotypes…this is where the amazing power of social media resides.

Thanks for your contributions Zoe.


Writer Dad 04/29/2009 at 8:04 am

I LOVE your what if list, Jeb. It’s a home run landing on a bulls-eye. We can’t dismiss our children and then expect them to write a remarkable future. It just doesn’t work that way.

Get Writer Dad’s content here..The story garden


Jeb 04/29/2009 at 12:25 pm

Amen WD…and that list is just a start. I bet you could add some gems yourself. In fact, feel free to do so…I’d love to ‘what if’ with you. ;)


Trina 05/01/2009 at 9:36 am

Greetings Jeb, I’ve been peeking in from time to time as I was intrigued by your comments on other blogs we frequent. This particular offering is such a great compliment to what this community has been fostering. You got me in the beginning of this post when you uncovered the ‘at home’ aspect of such mindsets. Before adressing the ‘what ifs’ I would like to say that a small amount of cynicism can be a good rudder, or protecter. As you’ve mentioned the problem lies in it’s insidious growth and undermining power when kept unchecked. If that comes from outside, then we need to protect ourselves from it, if from within, we have the wonderful ability to chose - or not.
Anyhow, moving on to the what if’s: One of my paenting credos has been to encourage and foster the dreams of my chillins. To do this I have to be consciously choosing the right responses to “I want to be a photographer, and have my work in National Geographic” said recently by my 14yo gal. When you believe in supporting the dream, an authentic response is easy. Being a product of society, I still have to chose to check my responses occasionaly. Having said that, I was able to encourage and support her rather than tell her that photographers are a dime a dozen, and she’ll never be able to sustain herself. Instead I agreed to look at upgrading her digital camera, choose a highschool that will offer related course options, and help her to find a mentor.
My what if: Choose to act, because you can!
The quip on your opening pic is bang on!


Jeb 05/01/2009 at 9:49 pm

Hi Trina,
Thanks for peeking. :) I think there’s a difference b/t cynicism and skepticism. I prefer a dash of the latter, but none of the former. It just feels so much better to expect the best out of people, and situations, and I firmly believe that doing so increases the likelihood of having a positive outcome.

I, too, have to check my responses from time to time. Being completely supportive and open (ie. non cynical) to my boys’ imaginations doesn’t come as naturally as I’d like, but I’m working on it. I’ve made myself a solemn vow to help them keep that wonder-lust as long as possible. I think the potential that lies within it is perhaps beyond my ability to grasp it. But I’m going to help them reach it…give them a boost every chance I get. I see you’re doing the same.

Thank you Trina.


Trina 05/02/2009 at 10:32 am

Yes, skepticism would be a better choice of words for what I was trying to convey. Thx!


Jeb 05/04/2009 at 10:12 am

No, Trina, thank YOU. Truly.


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