NOTE: Contains minor spoiler of Avengers: Infinity War
It’s easy to think this world is too much.
The negative news which dominates our newspapers, Twitter feeds and television screens is all we can see in those moments we’re looking at them. In my line of work, part of my task is to read and share news that affects farmers and rural Minnesotans. Too much of the time, that news is not good. And it’s not just rural people who feel that way.
We’ve all heard the narrative that our society’s discourse is breaking down, that we can’t communicate with people whom we don’t agree, that our use of social media has devolved our arguments into screaming matches rather than a nuanced discussion that leads to some kind of consensus. I don’t disagree with that. I see it in myself, when I read a post on social media I don’t agree with, I immediately react internally, “OMG! That’s a horrible belief!”
This clog in our ability to communicate is part of why I’ve grown cynical lately. It’s not just policies being enacted that I feel are bad for our country. (My opinion. You have the right to disagree.) It’s that in situations where there could be the chance for more cooperative conversation, people of various perspectives cling to their own sides, desperate to be right and the other wrong, rather than to do some good. Keeping in line with the ideology you’re “supposed” to follow seems to be more important than paying attention to the actual problems you’re faced with. (Again, I recognize this in myself too, and others who share my political beliefs, as well as those who don’t.) Seeing this happen over and over again (and it’s been happening for years, not just since 2016) makes me cynical that humans will never be able to solve their issues. That there’s no point, that things won’t turn out the way they need to in order to help people. I shield myself from more intense feelings with cynicism. I wake up and go to work knowing that the email news feeds I get are going to be filled with bad news. I check Twitter and am reminded that our country is burning to the ground.
This week, I recognized this was unhealthy. Well, I’ve long known that cynicism is unhealthy. But I let it seep in anyway. Since I don’t really feel anxious anymore (hurray!), I guess it had to be replaced with something. For the record, my cynicism did not make me depressed. I’m still enjoying my personal life and the work I do. It has just been hard to find motivation to choose joy, to see the good in the world. Even Avengers: Infinity War, which I’d been looking forward to seeing, added to my cynicism. Thanks a lot, Thanos.
I need to get back to my roots that helped guide me through my journey with anxiety. I need to meditate again. I need to cook healthy, delicious meals. I need to spend time outside. I need to meet more people in the Twin Cities. I get that.
And I will work on all of these things, a little at a time. I have faith this will help me from becoming burdened by the weight of cynicism. There’s someone else I must mention, however, who’s helped increase the amount of light in my life this past year. His name is Dr. James Hainlen, goes by Jim, the retiring conductor of the Roseville String Ensemble that I play with. His final concert with us was 2 weeks ago, and tonight we honored him with a banquet and short speeches of recognition from orchestra members and other friends.
Jim is an artist in every sense of the word. Obviously he is a musician, the former longtime director of orchestra at Stillwater (MN) High School before RSE. He’s a music theory nerd. He’s also a painter, mostly of nature scenes. He’s biker and hiker, so he spends a great deal of time in nature. And he’s a poet and writing teacher. He read poetry to us often at our rehearsals.
There’s something about Jim’s holistic view of art that is breaking my cynicism. Even though I’m sure he’s just as informed about the state of current events as anyone else, that doesn’t diminish his dedication to his arts. In each interaction I had with him, I saw light. I saw the soul of someone who honored the creative spirit above himself. Someone who didn’t let anyone get in the way of his art. I haven’t taken enough time to cherish that. I came into RSE not knowing anything about Jim. Now that I know him, I hope to know him forever.
There are too many problems with our human world to count. Unfairness runs rampant. Our mistakes, our sins, our hubris divide and kill. We have to figure out ways to stop it. But if the negativity is all that dominates our minds and hearts, we become trapped. If we do not see the beauty in the present, what is there to inspire us to keep going in our missions? If we do not allow our creativity to shine, where will new ideas come from?
May we all be like Jim and keep our passions healthy, despite what the world throws at us. May it lead to an abundance of joy rather than cynicism, solutions rather than gridlock, art rather than war.
I don’t know what it will look like, but I know love will win. Arts will help us get there.