The False Mystique of Cynicism

Recently, I attended the yearly Home Association Meeting for my community.  I came to listen to the Township Mayor talk about the latest community initiatives and to make my own assessment of this man’s leadership qualities.  The Township Mayor spoke first about road repairs, tree planting, and the latest on business investment in the area.  My Home Owner Association Board Members sat behind the mayor as he spoke.

Several of the Board Members were on the Board seven years ago when I last attended a meeting and have been among the first to live in the neighborhood when the homes were originally built. The rest of the members were younger in age, representing the new wave of families I had seen moving in over the past few years.  As the Mayor spoke, I could not help but notice one of the Board Members sitting arms folded, frowning in disbelief at almost everything the Mayor said.

During every pause, this man made some kind of remark to demonstrate how much he thought he knew.  I was amazed at what an expert he thought he was on trees, cement, traffic flow, and whatever else the Mayor talked about.  After the Mayor spoke, during the regular business of the meeting, this man continued to express cynicism regarding almost every agenda item.  He often chuckled to himself, as if amused by his own level of assumed superiority over the meeting attendees.

Several of the younger neighbors raised concerns over the lack of community events.  They asked for a small portion of the yearly budget for funding social activities.  My “smartest man in the room” Board Member, actually unfolded his arms during this discussion so he could wave them in disgust over the idea.  I watched the younger families become discouraged. I was silent the entire evening until this moment and could not resist throwing my support for the younger families.  Several other people who have also lived in the neighborhood as long as this one Board Member supported my position.  He stared at me for a moment and then backed down in his objections.

I walked away disturbed by this man and thought about how often do I act this way, judging before evaluating.  I have several friends who use this persona of cynicism as a tool for cutting through the fluff in discussions so they can make critical business decisions.  But the negative impact left upon others cannot be forgotten.  This type of cynicism often leads to a cynical, and discouraged, work force when this kind of approach is only used.

Several days later, I made my yearly ritual to Downtown Detroit for the Baseball Home Opener.  Without a doubt, I needed to eat breakfast at the same restaurant and order the same meal just so I did not jinx the Tigers.  Remembering the Home Owners Association Meeting, I was determined to act in an open and engaging manner with everyone I met that day.  My waiter was a young man who had recently moved to the City.

I asked him if he liked Baseball.  He looked at me for a moment and then started telling me a story about how he, and his father, used to play on the weekends… but that ended when his father left.  He asked me about my Baseball skills.  I told him about my own Father/Son story, about me & my Son.  I was determined to right the wrong I felt from having missed out playing baseball with my Dad.  Soon we were discussing other topics.

When leaving, he came over to shake my hand and thank me for talking.  He told me most guys my age come in and never say more than a few words, acting as if he is not worthy of a discussion. I was shocked by this comment.  His big smile stayed in my mind all day.  But what made me amazed the most was how little effort it took from me to give of myself, and maybe even expose a bit of myself to another person, in order to connect with that person.  Without realizing, I started a positive chain reaction where he would have a better day, and treat others well, and so would I.

In reflection, what a better result than the impact left by the Home Owner Association Board Member!

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