Peggy Noonan is always worth reading; she’s reliably conservative but always thoughtful and emotionally-intelligent. In her Wall Street Journal column this week she writes:
… we are becoming a nation that believes nothing. Not in nothing, but nothing we’re told by anyone in supposed authority.
Everyone knows what the word spin means; people use it in normal conversation. Everyone knows what going negative is; they talk about it on Real Housewives. Political technicians always think they’re magicians whose genius few apprehend, but Americans now always know where the magician hid the rabbit.
She’s right; a critical mass of people are becoming hip to how they are being spun and manipulated by “supposed authorities”. This is a very good thing! It is a sign of people and culture growing up. It makes us harder to spin and prepares us to engage issues at a more substantive level.
It’s a little like being a young teenager. At some point in our late childhood development we began to see the ways that adults have controlled and manipulated us. Of course adults see this as influence and leadership. But around 12 or 13 of age most kids start getting real tired of being influenced and led. Mom and Dad may continue to pour on the lessons, but there’s an immunity that comes online in us that creates room for our own ideas and opinions to take root as we grow into adult self-responsibility.
Today we are we are making a similar developmental move as a culture. Being pummeled by political advertising doesn’t turn us into zombies; it turns us into sophisticates. These days we not only see and hear a political TV spot, for instance, we see who is behind it and the context it arrives in. We hear the critique from the other side and the perpetrator’s defense. We have the independent fact checkers weigh in. We learn about the ad’s effect, how strong and upon whom. Like a wine aficionado tasting a new blend, there’s simply a lot more we’re aware of.
And this makes us not so easy to move, thank God.
But Noonan wisely warns:
… we shouldn’t be so proud of our skepticism, which has become our cynicism. Someday we’ll be told something true that we need to know and we won’t believe that, either.
Ok, but I’m not so sure that’s the way it works. I don’t think developing an advanced bull-shit detector keeps us from discerning what is important, authentic and true. In fact, I think it helps us become more discerning.
It is, however, certainly true that skepticism can become cynicism, and while I don’t recommend we hang out there too long, it does appear that cynicism is a part of the path that many of us have had to walk.
But here’s the really good news: there is territory beyond cynicism, and as evolutionaries we can find our way to this place.
So let’s do a 60 second practice right now. Contemplate: What is the territory beyond being jaded and negative? In our culture? Within yourself? How does it feel? How does it allow you to see other people, yourself and your world?
For me the it arises as a basic friendliness to everyone and feels like a great relief. Beyond my own cynicism I see that almost no one is out to do harm. All of us want to set the world right by our own lights. This realization evokes a natural sympathy in me where I am able to see what might be good and right about other peoples’ views.
Also, at this point I begin to see how my side is doing that same thing: spinning, going negative, bending reality — all in the service of our higher ideals. I see how easily I forgive, even admire, the people on our side who do it. My guy Obama gets pushed to his limit and he strikes back — good for him! I see how I do it myself, and how easily I justify it.
Of course there’s a downside to these insights, for our ego at least. I’m no longer able to fortify myself by seeing Mitt Romney (or even the devil himself, Dick Cheney!) as evil, but as good people who are trying to make the world a better place for their grandkids. And that’s the actual truth of the matter, which is always what I want.
Letting these insights in does not weaken me, it doesn’t change my vote or to whom I donate or support. It actually make me stronger, because I think and communicate more clearly when I am not driven by fear, anger and hatred. I may even be a little more persuasive to others who I may be trying to influence and lead.