Are you a cynic or idealist? | Ott Observations


In my previous column I wrote about how some of us live consumed by fears created by politicians’ propaganda, while others live focused on hope for creating a better world.  

Recently during a lunch conversation, a good friend voiced his deep distrust of government. As I was thinking about this, I read a letter to the editor in the Republic-Times titled “We the People,” which claimed that a “fraudulent” administration was “killing America.”

I realized there is a companion to fears driven by politicians – that being deep cynicism about government and its motives.

Where does this cynicism come from? For my friend, it isn’t from his personal experience. He is living a comfortable life in retirement, enhanced in part by governmental programs such as Social Security, Medicare and VA health services. I cannot speak from personal knowledge about the writers of the letter, but I doubt they are living destitute lives.

Perhaps this cynicism comes with challenging times, considering the civil strife and cultural conflict that’s in our face – compounded by a years-long killing virus and the social isolation used to combat it.  

It reminds me of the 1960s, which featured Vietnam War protests, sometimes violent civil rights marches and leader assassinations.  

The fact is that life is messy and all humans are flawed. Democracy isn’t easy when you have to find a balance between personal freedom and common good. If we expect our government to make this mess just go away, we have a pretty unrealistic expectation. 

A more reasonable debate would be to discuss the role of government in fixing things that are wrong in our world. Let’s look at a few of the evils the letter writers blamed on our government.

“They’re killing banking institutions.” 

Actually, banks are doing quite well. They are shutting down branches, but that’s because a majority of their customers have switched to online banking. Investment banks broke their own rules and cheated the system, which created the Great Recession of 2008. The government should’ve more tightly regulated them, and it was the government that kept our economy from plummeting into another Great Depression. I’m not sure what the letter writers think the government should or should not have done.

“They’re killing our legal voting system.”  

Actually, the most Americans ever participated in our last election (all legally). Our election officials utilized existing processes and safeguards to hold an election during a time many Americans were in home isolation. Our Homeland Security and Cyber Security departments, with Republican-appointed leaders, called the 2020 election the most secure ever. Our government did its job ensuring a legitimate election process all Americans could access, even in quarantine. Again, what exactly do the letter writers think our government should’ve done?

My sense is that cynics look at everything that is ugly or messy or wrong in the world and look for someone to blame – usually lacking any specific information to assign such blame. Our government is an easy target. 

On the other hand, idealists recognize the same problems but hold optimism toward solving them.  They see their government as the most powerful ally to fix things and make them better. 

In my last column, I suggested we all have to make a choice in our lives, either being fearful or hopeful. I think cynicism or idealism presents a similar choice.  We can either live distrusting secret motives behind things we don’t like, or we can live believing we can make a difference in improving life.

In my personal experience, one path is the root of chronic bitterness, simmering anger and resentment, while the other path provides a zest for and sense of joy in life.

Our Christian faith instructs us that “God works in mysterious ways.” I believe this, but I also believe Satan also works in mysterious ways. It is so easy to be self-righteous these days, judging harshly those that don’t agree with you.  Maybe that self-righteousness is actually a sin, cleverly disguised by Satan so that the self-righteous truly believe they are the standard bearers for patriotism and God. 

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is something that deserves our reflection.

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