“Please do not be Cynical”
There was some pretty powerful television this past Friday night that has really stuck with me. It’s the first time in many years that I’ve actually stayed in to watch television on a Friday night – but I must say that it was well worth it. You may be guessing that the Hope for Haiti Telethon is what I’m referring to. I don’t want to downplay that event in the slightest, because all in all I thought it was well-done and I’m thrilled with the fact that $58 million was raised to help the people of Haiti.
However, the really poignant moment (for me) came in Conan O’Brien’s last episode as host of the Tonight Show. I have been a fan of Conan for many, many years; enjoying his unique style of humor and his unlimited capacity to make fun of himself. I must admit though, that I am no die-hard fan and have not kept up to date with his shows lately. I knew a little about the debacle with NBC wanting to move Leno back to his old time slot, bumping Conan (who is only in his first year as host of the Tonight Show) and so I made it a point to watch his final show.
It was a bitter sweet moment, for sure. I know Conan will go on to entertain us in great ways, but still, this would be his final night in a role that he was born to play. He had much to say – both lighthearted and thoughtful. It all climaxed towards the end of the show, in a manner that I’ve never seen him speak before and almost breaking out in tears; this is a piece of what he had to share:
“All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people that watch. Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism – for the record it is my least favorite quality. It doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they would get. But if you work really hard and your kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you – amazing things will happen.”
Wow. Perhaps I am playing up the moment (or not supplying enough context), but it really touched me. I felt a deep connection to his words, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.
Okay, so his words aren’t Ghandian (if that isn’t a word, it should be) or Shakespearean. Yet they touch upon a fact of life that we easily lose sight of. So often, I feel the collection of cynicism that seemingly snowballs with age. I try and make it a point to melt that cynicism away. I try and remain firmly grounded to my ideals. But then, amidst debate, an older person calls me naive. And then someone who makes more money than I do, they tell me to wait and see where my ideals are once I have to give more of my money to the government. And then, someone who is “more experienced” than I am, they discount my view and tell me to be “realistic”. And gradually, despite my best efforts to melt it away, that cynicism builds up and freezes over.
Fact is, I think this is a process that happens in the lives of many people. Why though? That is the question I ask and pose to you. Therein lies my sun-soaked idealism. We need not be cynical. I daresay, we need not even be “realistic.”
Conan reached out to millions of people, myself included, and said it’s okay to be idealistic. And maybe that is just the thing we all need to hear more often; maybe it is just the thing we all need to be more conscious of. I’ve experienced so much over these past 12 months; from the drip of my chemotherapy treatment to the drop of water that people in many parts of the world are dying for. So easy it would be to let cynicism take hold of me after these months, and indeed sometimes it has. But I know, and Conan reminded me: that isn’t the road I want to travel.
In the face of huge tragedy, suffering, poverty, hunger, disaster, I remain idealistic. Because I am absolutely certain, to my very core, that we can change the world. In the smile of a nurse watching over me, in the eyes of a Rwandan boy looking up to me, is the humanity that I know connects each and every one of us.
I don’t have all the answers and I can’t solve the world’s problems alone. But together, I know we can do amazing things, if we’re willing to “work hard and be kind” with and for each other.
Thank you Conan.