Friday, January 24, 2014

Are you cheerful or skeptical?

"Warning: Images in this mirror may be a socially constructed image of beauty." -sticker on a mirror in the women's restroom in the science building

At Brigham Young University, one of the most goody-two-shoes universities in the U.S., I'm pretty used to seeing things around campus that are meant to cheer up passersby. It's not at all unusual to see little notes like "You are beautiful!" or "Smile!" or "Somebody loves you!" or some such.

I typically have two responses. (Not one of two. Two, together.) A cheerful side, and a cynical side.

Cheerful Me: How sweet!
Cynical Me: How disgustingly sweet.
Cheerful Me: You only say that because you wouldn't take two seconds out of your day to do something like this.
Cynical Me: Yeah, because I have better things to do. Like homework. And studying. You know, the reason we're all here at BYU in the first place.
Cheerful Me: Oh, lighten up. Someone is just trying to make your day.
Cynical Me: Whoever wrote this doesn't even know me. They don't know whether I'm beautiful or not.
Cheerful Me: Everyone is beautiful.
Cynical Me: Right. And some note on a bathroom mirror is supposed to convince me.

You get the idea. Something inside me thinks that I'm above this sort of thing, or that it doesn't apply to me. I think there's something about studying English literature all day (you know, people like Emily Dickinson and Ernest Hemingway and and Charlotte Bronte who seem so mysterious and genius and tragically unhappy) that makes me think there's some kind of merit in being aloof from happiness. There's something in me that thinks there's value in focusing on the bad and ugly in this world instead of the beautiful and sweet.

I'm in college and my early twenties, which means I'm in this strange (albeit wonderful) time in my life when I'm trying to "find myself," which is just another term for "figure out what the heck I'm even doing on this earth." I wouldn't say I'm having an identity crisis or that I don't know who I am. (I've sung the line "I am a child of God" enough times in church to know who I am, thank you very much.) It's more like I don't know what I'm going to do. Like I have bundles of yarn and a pair of knitting needles, but I have no idea what I want to create. Or paints and a canvas and no clue what the picture will look like when I'm done. I don't even know where to begin.

One of the many crossroads I'm at is this one: cheerful or cynical? Some people would say that the answer is clear, that being cheerful is a million times better than being cynical. But there's a certain allure in cynicism--or, perhaps to say it better, skepticism. There's merit in asking questions of the world, in being the shrewd journalist that roots out the problems and brings them to light.

But at most, I'm a closet skeptic. I'm deeply uncomfortable with being a true skeptic and calling people out on their issues. Don't I have enough issues of my own? I don't like speaking up in opposition to wrong. I'd rather speak up in support of right.

Sometimes that instinct feels right. I feel like it's my duty to be cheerful. But I also know other people (particularly women), who have seemed to embrace cheerfulness, and I feel so opposite them. I've read the sugary sweet mommy blogs and they are, you know, great, but I couldn't possibly do that. I'd rather talk about real issues, not wonder salads or DIY tricks or beauty tips. But is it possible to talk about real issues without being skeptical and controversial? Am I just afraid to speak out? Do I need to search out a middle ground? Is there some magic medium where I will be able to somehow be both cheerful and skeptical? Or do I need to just buckle down and decide which one is more important to my own individual purpose?

What do you think? Are you cheerful or skeptical--or are you somewhere in the middle? Why?


  1. It feels good to be cheerful but it can be fun to play the cynic. And since they aren't mutually exclusive, I consider myself a cheerful cynic.

    1. True, but sometimes they do feel mutually exclusive!

  2. I like the idea of big-picture cheerfulness and everyday realism. Because we know that we're children of God and that he will make everything right in the end, we can cheerfully look forward to the (very long-term) future. But we can also recognize that there are a lot of struggles on the way to eternity, and part of our job here on earth is to deal with those. (The scriptures tell us to "mourn with those that mourn," not "try to cheer up those downers.")

    When you're hoping to have children, I think that's a good time to not have a particular outcome in mind. You know how to get started, but you have no idea what those future children will wind up being and doing, and it'll be your job to take them as they come. Planning your children's lives before they're born is a recipe for frustration!

    1. Haha, good point about mourning with those that mourn. I like your idea of being both cheerful and realistic, but in different ways, at different times.