Art by Peau Porotesano
It’s common for older high school students to experience cynicism during the “inevitable and difficult transition” that is high school to college, according to Nancy Faust Sizer’s article “‘Enhancing’ the truth in order to compete destroys students’ optimism, promotes cynicism,” published in the Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter in September 1998. Faust Sizer interviewed many high school seniors and observed that when stress piles up, keeping up appearances gets harder, especially with the college process.
I’ve always leaned more toward being an optimist, and I’ve been one for as long as I can remember. But, in junior year of high school, reality set in.
My ability to look on the bright side was challenged. I was struggling through a fallout with my best friend, my family situation began to show signs of instability and my theater responsibilities were starting to feel like a chore. I found myself thinking negatively often. My peers around me would complain about all sorts of things and although I wasn’t comfortable with doing that before, I started doing it just as much as they were.
When I graduated high school, I was burned out from trying to project the happy girl everyone knew. I found myself dwelling on the dark side like I had observed from my most cynical friends in high school. I was not comfortable being the optimist I thought I was.
Coming to Pepperdine, I confronted the inner disharmony I was experiencing. I returned back to my bubbly self. As more life has happened, however, I’ve come to realize that the two extremes shouldn’t work independently. There should be a balance between the two, resulting in what is known as optimistic realism.
Realistic optimists combine the positive outlook of optimists and the ability to discern situations like cynics, according to Tia Ghose’s This Personality Type is Linked to Success and Happiness published on the website LiveScience on August 23, 2013. The article references a study done by organizational psychology researcher Sophia Chou of National Taiwan University where Chou found that realistic optimists tended to be more successful and happy than those that were unrealistic optimists and full realists.
Like the article says, I’ve seen that my developing cynicism balances out my optimistic tendencies. The cynic tendency to look at situations for what they are keeps me from being naive about things and helps me to understand how a situation is actually unfolding. Likewise, the optimistic tendency to search for the good keeps me from losing hope. The cynic inspires the optimist to take action.
A similar conclusion is found in British philosopher Julian Baggini’s article “In praise of cynicism,” published in The Guardian on July 10, 2013. Baggini is the co-founder of The Philosopher’s Magazine and has written books on topics such as personal identity, free will and British philosophy.
“We can’t make things better unless we see quite how bad they are,” wrote Baggini. “We can’t do our best unless we guard against our worst.”
Of course, I’m still learning how to achieve that balance. Fortunately, I have many opportunities to practice. How am I going to interact with people I do not necessarily agree with? How am I going to handle the pressures of my career? How am I going to think about my family situation? How am I going to handle my romantic life? I don’t have any specific answers yet but it will help to keep a clear head and a happy heart.
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