A Cure To Cynicism

Sometimes it can seem like the world we live in doesn’t care very much about people. We see a constant stream of cruelty and ignorance justified by fear and fame.

And if you only listen to what you see on TV and read online, it’s easy to start believing that the world is a pretty cruel and heartless place. A place where all that matters is how many Twitter followers you have and how good you look in a tight skirt.

In moments like these, I try to remind myself that despite what I see on television the world isn’t actually the shallow cruel place it can sometimes appear to be. Here’s what I do to reconnect with the parts of reality that never make it on the news

I look at who has truly influenced my life:

It’s easy to get caught up in the lives of celebrities and politicians, hanging on their every word and focusing on what they will do next. But when I look at who has had the greatest influence on my growth, I find it’s not those with prestige and fame, it’s the humble people who have served me out of love.

The gifted teacher Ms. Drummond who made me feel like it was safe to be different. My mother who taught me about the true power of caring quietly and serving deliberately. My friend Michael who pushed me to find the kind of partner who could truly meet me and serve me in my spiritual growth.

It was these people and their quiet love and service for me that actually shaped my life, much more than politicians and actors.

Seeing this reminds me that while politics and popular culture do have an effect, it’s the character of the most intimate people in my life that make the biggest difference.

I look at the difference I’ve made in the lives of others:

I’ve written blog posts that have gone viral and given speeches on fancy stages. But when I look at the moments that have meant the most to me throughout my life I find that the majority involve the kind of influence and connection you can’t get from the spotlight.

Sure it was great to be asked to write for the Huffington Post and I love it when Leo Babauta links to my posts, but what matters more to me is the way I’ve personally affected those closest to me.

Recently a client wrote me an email in which she said: “I feel like this was worth the whole year of working with you. For this moment.

Thank you Toku. I am sobbing here. I feel like I’ve spent so long wrestling with my calling and you’ve been trying to help me see something different, but today you SHOWED me.”

These are the moments I relish, not because I love getting these kind of emails, but because these are the moments that can only happen after you’ve invested real time and energy into a relationship.

Shallow power rarely gives you these kinds of moments. Sure raving fans will tell you that you’ve changed their lives, but it means so much more when you can feel that change slowly happening in the people closest to you.

Whenever I get depressed about how little shallow power I have, I go back and review these moments in my life to remind myself that I have influenced others in profound ways. And while this isn’t the kind of influence you can measure in Twitter followers, it’s the kind of influence that touches my heart and fills my life with meaning.

I look for love and wisdom in everyone I meet:

Television and social media only show us a very small sliver of what life is really all about. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the world who care more about where their next meal will come from then who said what on CNN. But you don’t have to go to the third world to see how much exists outside of the world we see on our screens. You simply have to watch your fellow humans.

Whenever I’m feeling depressed about the world I simply go and watch strangers. I see parents taking time out of their day to take their children to the park. I see groups of teenagers playing basketball and having fun. I see people standing up on the subway to offer their seat to someone in need. I see people dropping dollar bills into the open case of a passionate street musician.

Everywhere I go I see examples of human compassion. Despite what the screens show me, the world I see at large is kind and loving. Yes, there are wars in the world, there is cruelty, racism, and suffering. And yes, we need to address these problems, but that doesn’t change the fact that most people live and act from a place of love and wisdom. As problematic as the world is, all you have to do is go to the grocery store and you’ll see our acts of kindness to each other far outweigh the other side.

I choose to focus on what I can change:

Perhaps the most powerful thing I can do when I find myself drifting into cynicism and sadness about the state of the world, is focus on what I can truly change.

The truth is that I can’t choose for others. I can’t change the fact that our culture is obsessed with celebrity or focused on personal power. But I can choose what I want to focus on and the work I do on myself.

I can give in to the siren call of beauty and prestige and decide I should try my best to look the part or gain influence any way I can. Or I can decide to ignore what I see and choose the path that aligns with the truth I know deep in my heart.

I know from experience that deep connection with others, the courage to be myself, and my desire to love and serve are what leads to the greatest feelings of fulfillment and joy in my life.

So despite how good fame, fortune, and influence look from the outside, I know that if I want to live a life I can be proud of on my deathbed, I need to focus on the things that speak deeply to the wisest and most compassionate parts of me. I need to ignore the loud voices of the world and instead learn to listen to the quietest voices that lie at the center of my being.

It may not lead to me having my name on buildings or my face on the news, but it will lead to a sense of deep satisfaction and lasting peace that comes from seeking the kind of power that can help me shape my life in unspeakably beautiful ways.

I also published this post on an amazing blog I help edit at: LivingQuirky.com