by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
Why do we equate vacancy with appeal?
Americans worship cool people. Dark sunglasses, blank facial expressions, stony silences, we perceive as toughness, and we all long to be tougher than we really are. Think Sylvester Stallone in Rocky and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator series.
Hedy Lamarr, (an actress and mathematician from the 1940’s who invented spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping which are used in wireless communications to this day) once said “it’s easy to look glamorous; all I have to do is stand there and look as empty-headed as possible.”
A friend of mine said something the other day that perfectly captured the way children can inspire us to become better humans. “Now that I’m a parent, I can’t afford to be cynical anymore. I don’t want my children to be cynics.”What he wants for his children is openness to the magic and joy of life.
Cynicism is a defensive mental habit of pushing away the very real and painful experiences of life with a dismissive, jokey “I expected that.” It lowers our individual experiences of disappointment by creating global expectations of disappointment. It’s a bit like lighting a candle with a blow torch. In the same way that depression hits a global emotional mute button, cynicism is a removal from the immediacy of our experience.
We do it out of a superstitious attempt to push away our vulnerability/ fear of loss or of exposure by hiding it under an attitude of “I’m too cool to care.” The problem with this approach is manifold:
- It doesn’t work
- It turns other people off and therefore isolates us
- It is no fun! A cynic can enjoy being clever and right, but they can’t trust enjoyment itself, can’t lean on it and feel its durability and cyclical nature.
I propose a revolution. Or at least, an inversion.
What if we collectively decided that pretending to be invulnerable is as appealing as turning into a granite slab? That what so-called cool people lack is the very quality we all actually crave, which is warmth and that we cannot convey warmth without also being vulnerable to rejection?
Imagine attending a dinner party. Would you rather sit next to someone with enthusiasm or someone who acts disengaged? Who is easier to connect with? Who is more inspiring? I would take goofy over glossy any day.
Cool in my book is passion, enthusiasm, and excitement. It’s silly and experimental and risk-taking and fun. It’s bold and geeky and snorting with laughter with a big ol’ wad of spinach between your teeth.
If you find yourself thinking or speaking in a cynical manner, gently refocus. A great question to ask is “How can I trust that no matter how this experience turns out I will be okay so that I don’t need to prematurely destroy it?”