Saturday – Cynicism and Survival

The Link Between Cynicism and Survival

There is an inexorable link between cynicism and survival. When we feel threatened, we naturally begin looking for additional threats to be wary of. When those threats happen to be physical, we have a certain set of responses. Truth be told, most of us aren’t under physical threat very often in our lives. Not never, but certainly most of us aren’t under threat of physical harm for extended periods of time. 

Emotional threats, though? That’s an entirely different story. Our reaction, however, is quite similar. We become first hyper vigilant and then cynical. Before we know it, everyone represents an emotional threat. We are more worried about our own emotional survival than we are about helping a hurting child. 

Slipping Into Cynicism

Being here makes it incredibly easy to become cynical. Some even brag about their hyper vigilance in noticing every possible behavior and what it means in terms of being a threat. They boast of their perceived advantage in seeing the threat coming before they can get hurt…and before anyone else sees it. “Look at me! I’m more hyper vigilant and cynical than everyone else and I genuinely believe that I can prove my worth and prevent myself from being hurt. Unlike you gullible dummies. Look at me! I’m important because I value my own emotional safety more than I care about this awful child’s future.” We don’t always say it so clearly, but I’ve seen it a bunch in the last 2 weeks and even more in my 22 years. 

Stay a little longer, and you can get cynical about the adults too. 

Yesterday, I became a bit cynical about adults and, as it happened, I was very convinced about how justified I was. I’ve been here long enough that I’ve seen frustration mount over minor things until they become more major things. I’ve also been here long enough to know that my cynicism will only make everyone’s situation a little worse. I miss the days that wasn’t true, but those days are gone. Leadership and cynicism make an ugly and ineffective pairing. I had a bad day yesterday and now I need to get back to good and get back to offering empathy and hope…despite my very real experiences yesterday. 

What About the Kids Though?

To top yesterday off, a kid with tension towards a member of our staff  made a hyper vigilant beeline to emotionally align with another member of our staff that is subtly and almost imperceptibly cynical towards the person that the kid has tension with. The kid has put themselves intentionally back in survival mode so they seek out those who are opportunistically cynical towards their perceived enemies. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Like I said, survival and cynicism are inexorably linked. 

This is why we have to get kids out of survival mode and disrupt their hyper vigilance and reliance on cynicism. The best way to do that is for us to get out of our own survival mode and hyper vigilance and give up our own cynicism. 

Offer Them Hope

Interestingly, the kids who come back to thank us almost always reference someone who believed in them when they didn’t deserve it and when no one else did or ever had. The people who weren’t cynical toward the kid who’d experienced cynicism as a part of their survival. They almost never talk about the cynical staff that never believed in them or saw their potential. Probably because they could get cynicism and survival at home. 

When I talk about hope, this is often what I am talking about. People who offer hope to kids often believe in the kid – see the kid – when no one else has. 

So, you have a choice: survival and cynicism or empathy and hope. 

Who are your protecting yourself from with cynicism and hyper vigilance? And who do you look at and say, there’s something that draws me to that kid? Who do you look at and think, Why do I have hope for this kid who doesn’t have hope for themselves?

Heath Kull

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