A Healthy Dose of Skepticism
Turns out, I’m not a cynic after all. Up until recently, I just assumed that my decade long stint working in news (I have often referred to it as my 10 year sentence, with early release for good behavior) qualified me as a bonafide cynic.
I think it’s a condition of epidemic proportions among journalists, or at least that’s the front we put up. In the face of senseless tragedy that is encountered by those in the media on a daily basis, it’s difficult not to become infected with a touch of the malaise. While there’s probably nothing worse than suffering the unspeakable calamity that so many encounter each day in our city and around the world, having to be a witness to it day in and day out will also take its toll on a person.
Now don’t get out your violins just yet. I’m not suggesting that reporters and photographers are tortured souls, forced to bear the burden of humanity’s collective grief. On the contrary, we come well-equipped with coping mechanisms. Namely, a thick skin and a wicked sense of humor.
You see, there are two ways you can go when you’re thrown to the wolves, sent to crime scene after crime scene, accident after accident, often in the most dire locations, knocking on the doors of people who’d sooner see the devil himself than you.
One route is to empathize with the people you encounter and shower them with compassion in what might be their darkest hour. While that sounds all rainbows and unicorns, the truth is, it’s completely unsustainable. Unless you’re prepared to make a very quick exit from the business or precipitate your own entrance to the psych ward, you’d better consider the second option.
The other, most plausible method for maintaining your mental health while still informing the public is to detach yourself from the utter hopelessness of so many stories and just see them for what they are: a set of facts- people, places, events- that go beyond the ordinary, making them noteworthy enough to qualify as news. And while not all news is the blood gushing variety, let’s face another fact. We like to pretend that the old adage “if it bleeds, it leads” is not true, but yeah, it kind of is.
So in the face of that, cultivating the calloused over sensibility of a hardened veteran who has seen and covered it all is your best bet. That and sharpening your biting wit to a glistening rapier edge. It’s what allows reporters, photogs and cops alike to yuck it up at a homicide scene as if it’s happy hour at the corner tavern. Could we really be that thoughtless to show such disrespect in the space where a person’s life was just taken? No, of course not. We mean no disrespect, but for the rest of us, life goes on. We didn’t choose to be there, but it’s part of the job.
And so, for the longest time, that’s where I left it, thinking that my experience witnessing the absolute worst of humanity couldn’t possibly allow me to see the good ever again, or at least to take it seriously. Anything positive you could point out, I could quickly conjure a joke to mock its naivety.
The trouble is, cynics see only the dark underbelly of even the most gleaming, bright beacon of a cause or movement. Maybe it’s the perspective that I’ve gained in the two plus years since I left the news business, or maybe I’m just getting soft, but I’ve come to realize that I’m really not that sour on everything. What I do possess is a healthy dose of skepticism. I don’t think that the world’s problems can be solved overnight. I don’t think many of them will ever be solved. I don’t share much of the idealism of teachers, pontificating politicians on the stump or missionaries and the like. With the exception of politicians, I admire the genuine desire of most of those people to do good. I just doubt the effectiveness of the approach that is often taken.
And so, I’ll continue to wisecrack at the absurdities of this broken world. I’ll keep calling attention to the less savory or more nonsensical human behaviors that clutter our otherwise beautiful planet. But I won’t completely throw my hands up and admit defeat. I might even hop in the trenches once in a while and fight the good fight, even if I know the odds are against victory. Just know that underneath this sometimes brash exterior is someone who does care about those around him. I can’t speak for the rest of those out there who cling to the cynic moniker, but I for one do have a heart, even if it is tempered with a healthy dose of skepticism.