At what point did being cool, aloof, and sarcastic get aligned with intelligence and worldliness? And at what point did being loving, optimistic, and emotional get merged with (at best) naiveté or (at worst) being simple-minded?
I ask because it’s clear that at some point these distinctions were made. I expect that you’re familiar with them. You may or may not have thought of them in this way, but nonetheless I imagine it’s not a stretch to recognize this.
I know I thought this way. I know that I have spent most of my life resisting the idea of being openly sentimental because I worried that people would think less of me. I thought if I went around talking about joy and love that people would think I’m a ditz.
Growing up I found that humor which was simply clever wasn’t as popular or well-regarded as humor that was clever and cutting. I learned that having a critical opinion was a way to show intelligence and a certain kind of superiority. I gathered that sarcasm and doubt could be used to show sophistication. Bitter novels were smart. Happy movies were dumb. End of story.
And now I think all of that is just sad. And actually a little dangerous.
It’s sad that the fear of being vulnerable, being disappointed, of having our hopes dashed keeps us from being open and loving. The real danger is not that others will think you’re naive. The danger is that you’ll get hurt because you care so much.
Seeing this has made me consider that being aloof and sarcastic is a sign of fear, an unwillingness to put yourself on the line, a holding-back of desires. As long as you don’t get too invested, you’re protected from risking your heart — and that, really, is the scariest thing to do.
So the shifted reality that I embrace now is that those who are willing to be hopeful and caring in the face of all the danger and judgement are the ones who are being brave. And those who criticize and look down upon others, the ones doing the judging, are the people who are living in fear.
And why “dangerous”? Because criticism is so steeped into our culture that we don’t recognize its relationship to discrimination. We don’t question complaints about “stupid security people” or “idiot delivery people” or any of the other “dumb-people-I-had-to-deal-with” stories we encounter all the time. And yet I can’t help but feel that somehow we’re condoning the sense of superiority that runs through these stories. Believing in the rightness of social hierarchies, reinforcing the desire to lower others to be sure that we’re not at the bottom – this is what separates and alienates. This is so much of what is at the root of bigotry, hatred, and bullying.
I’ve recently started sending messages of affection to people I care about. I’ve started to use the word “love” much more publicly. I still worry that others may think that I’m less intelligent or sophisticated because I’m talking more often about emotions and hope, that I’m out of touch with reality just because I’m optimistic. But fear be damned. I’m going for it. Because it feels so much better to be taking the brave path and gamble on the chance to feel love all around me than to fearfully isolate myself just to be protected from the risk of heartbreak.
I have to be willing to be vulnerable in this world as a form of courage. I already know it feels great to talk about what connects us and to celebrate other people. And so, yes, I’m willing to risk it. I want to create a world where we embrace each other, even in the moments where we’re frustrated and angry and scared. I’m willing to stand up for love. And if that just leaves me with a big, dopey grin on my face, well… so be it.