Finding My Cynicism


2012 Map

One of the great things about doing a project like this is the fact that you meet so many amazing people doing all manner of wonderful things. Every few days I get a pledge, and so many people know I’m a big fan of acts of kindness that every day or two someone posts an inspirational story on my Facebook wall. It is hard not to have a lot of hope and love for the human race in the face of that.

On the other hand, every once In a while you meet a person that has a bit more cynicism than average. Take this recent post on the Share Something Day event page from someone that it turns out I went to high school with:

“Please remove me from whatever list you have me on! I never requested to get this junk. I am a cynical old man and have no interest in kindness. So please, if you want to do a kindness then be kind stop sending me this junk!!!! Thanks”

The first reaction I had was, predictably, was for my feelings to be a bit hurt. But given the overall response to the project it was hard for that to last. The feeling that *did* stick around was one of being misunderstood. There are a lot of things to be upset about in the world, but at the same time, there is a great deal of good happening. If you’re cynical, why wouldn’t you want to know about things good that *are* happening? I also felt a bit judgmental: What are you doing feeling cynical and not wanting to hear good things and bringing others down at the same time? But after ruminating on that for a while, I have come to another conclusion. This was an opportunity for me to look inside and see where I might be doing the same thing. I didn’t have to look very far at all. I only needed to look at this trip and the route we’ve chosen to see where it lies. Last year’s trip was through two Canadian provinces and six US states, all of whom are solid blue states. This year’s trip will pass through the reddest of red states – five in total before going through two blue states and returning to Ontario.

While I tend to be fairly soft spoken and like to keep a relatively open mind, I also tend to be pretty socially and politically liberal. And for someone like me, I have to admit that the idea of traveling somewhere as conservative as the deep south is a bit daunting. How will we be received? In a part of the US that gets a lot of press for hate groups and racism, what will we find there? The questions enter my mind, of course, but I feel like that’s going to be the personal part of the journey for me. I know academically that we will meet many wonderful people. I know there is more depth to the people there than that. And I also hope that they’ll find the same of this US Expat who is happy to live in a country with equal marriage and single payer health care. But it would be hypocritical and ironic of me to be concerned about meeting people significantly different than me because I’ve heard that they’re afraid of people different from them. And as a parent, I think it’s especially important to confront this sort of thing head-on.

So sure, there’s a bit of cynicism in me, but I’m ready to face it. And I’m really looking forward to be proven wrong. And I think I have an advantage in this case. I believe kindness transcends religious beliefs, cultural beliefs, and political ideology because we all like it when people are kind to us, and we all enjoy the experience of being kind to others. And so I look forward to sharing my experience with you.

Photo: skooksie

2 thoughts on “Finding My Cynicism

  1. Todd: It would be a mistake to characterize “Red America” as a less kind place than “Blue America.”

    That said, in my small experience as a bicycle tourists and in another experience as a motorcycle tourist, it was in “Red America” where I received gracious kindness, but also encountered the most casual racism in the country. People using the n-word as a normal part of speech — and often not in a hateful way, but rather in a way that simply reflected the reality of the speaker. Such as, “There’s another hotel a mile down the road, but that’s where n*****s stay.”

    I don’t know how you intend to conduct this next tour, but consider proposing a thought experiment to some of the friends you will make on your journey.

    Would you have extended this same kindness to a person of a different race?

    Would you have extended this same aid to a fugitive who was being pursued for breaking an unjust law? (As did the people who offered aid to fugitives from enslavement.)

    Whether or not you get honest answers, I bet you will get some interesting answers if you ask.

    • I completely agree – that’s a big part of why I’m going there – to explore that idea. I love your questions also. I’d even say it could be interesting to take your question of “Would you have extended this same kindness to a person of a different race?” and ask it about people different (or no) religion, gay/lesbian/transgender, or a left-leaning carfree US Expat cyclist who moved to Canada because he didn’t like the political direction the country appeared to be going in back in 2003 for that matter.

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