Milwaukee OnLine Journal Of Social Enterprise

Avoiding Cynicism.

Spring, 2005

Buttercup, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore sings:

	”Things are seldom what they seem,
	Skim milk masquerades as cream;
	Highlows pass as patent leathers;
	Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.”

She adds:

	”Black sheep dwell in every fold;
	All that glitters is not gold; …”

And, on and on.

Perhaps “seldom what they seem” is a bit strong, but what’s a better choice? “Sometimes”? “now and then”? “once in a blue moon”? You can argue about the frequency, but it’s undeniable we should exercise a healthy skepticism when dealing with issues in our lives. We can’t believe everything we either read or hear, and we should always be mindful of the source and the context in which it’s presented.

I happen to enjoy opera. But I’ve long known the stories are often in stark contrast to the beauty of the music, in fact, many if not most of the stories are stupid or sexist that at best are only slightly depressing. How can these trite stories co-exist with such beautiful sounds?

As an example, there’s the famous Puccini aria “O mio babbino caro”, which I’ve always mis-heard as O mio bambino caro, or Oh my dear child. It’s a beautiful soprano piece, and I’ve heard it many times before seeing the words and their translation. What a letdown! It’s actually a young lass petitioning her dear father (babbino, not bambino!) to buy her a ring so she can marry, and if he refuses she’ll drown herself in the Arno! Of course the guy won’t marry her unless she’s rich! I enjoyed the aria so much more when I pictured a mother consoling a young one on her knee, but we have to go with what it is, not what we wish it were! Things are seldom what they seem, or at least occasionally not so. It’s admittedly hard to listen to it now without picturing a spoiled brat berating her father, but I try to put that scene out of my mind and concentrate on the beauty of the voice. It’s not always easy to do.

To put it in a social context, here we have a church masquerading as a hotel. A church; a haven and a source of solace for many, turned into a slaughter house for some. We have police sworn to uphold the law abusing their power beating a citizen because they know their code of silence will protect them. We have people heading agencies meant to help others, rip off the agency for their personal gain. And, although Buttercup says “Black sheep dwell in every fold” one begins to wonder whether the black sheep are the rule or the exception? Or are jackdaws running our agencies for their benefit rather than for the peoples they are chartered to help? When managers rip off public funds, police bowl or sled on duty, (and then attribute injuries to chasing a black man) we become cynical and skeptical and tend to assume the worst of all programs and the people involved in them, making support for all programs more difficult. Harvey Taylor well may say “I mean no disrespect, but are the lunatics running the asylum?”

So what do we do? How do we avoid fatal cynicism? Finley Peter Dunne once said “trust everyone, but cut the cards!” Not bad advice. Trust them, as long as they earn our trust, but be ever watchful, and when incidents occur that warrant action group together and make sure those responsible are held accountable.

Group action worked with the “Coalition to Save the Lakefront”, championed and spearheaded by Charlie and Mary Kamps. It took a lot of energy and no small expense, but the result was worth the effort. We, as individuals, can’t garner that much energy continually so we must pick and choose our battles. But even adding our moral support to others will keep us motivated to continue.

Here’s some words from Housman, (extracted from A Shropshire Lad), that I like to read and re-read now and again:

 . . Therefore, since the world has still
 Much good, but much less good than ill,
 And while the sun and moon endure
 Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,
 I’d face it as a wise man would,
 And train for ill and not for good.
 ‘Tis true the stuff I bring for sale
 Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
 Out of a stem that scored the hand
 I wrung it in a weary land.
 But take it: if the smack is sour,
 The better for the embittered hour’
 It should do good to heart and head
 When your soul is in my soul’s stead;
 And I will friend you, if I may,
 In the dark and cloudy day.

Timothy Leary urged us to “tune out and turn on” offering a chemical solution to the world’s ills. We’re still seeing the tremendous social impact of that attitude. Instead we must “tune in” and work to build a world in which there is much more good than ill!

Last edited by TeganDowling. Based on work by g.  Page last modified on April 05, 2005

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