I liked what Conan O’Brien said recently on his last late night show (for awhile). He directed his remarks particularly “to the younger people,” and he said “Don’t be cynical. Cynicism is one of my least favorite qualities, and it goes nowhere. If you work really hard and are kind, wonderful things will happen.” That may not really be an exact quote, but it’s pretty close.
It’s so hard not to be cynical these days. Sometimes I swear I will never read the newspaper again and will only watch movies or read books that have guaranteed happy endings. I feel helpless, more than a little mystified, saddened, and frightened by what I see and hear on every side of the political spectrum. And yes, I have become cynical about the people LBJ used to call “mah fellow Ahmuricuns.”
We were having lunch with She’s cousins last week. I told them about what Conan said, we all agreed about how great that was, and not five minutes later I was the first person to make a cynical statement about this nation. We all winced. What can we do, the four of us wondered out loud, when our world seems so out of control? Immediately, we focused on the other thing Conan had said, about being kind. We’re not younger people, and we’ve already worked really hard, but we could be much kinder, we all agreed. And we’re not so far gone that we don’t believe in the power of individual kindness. We can make a positive difference, however small, in our world. It’s a little something we can hang our hats on.
Today, on my beloved CBS Sunday Morning, Mo Rocca accompanied four teenagers from the Bronx to see a production of Our Town, a play (in which I once had a walk-on part) that has been in steady production for 70 years. What would these kids from the cynical, fast-paced, often foul-mouthed I-pod/I-phone/Facebook/Twitter generation make of the message in this play, about realizing life while we live it?
The kids said something about taking the time to stop and notice the blue sky. But is that enough, asked Mo, just to see the blue sky? One of the young men responded, “The question isn’t whether it’s enough. The question is, did you look up?”