Reign of the Cynics
As a sophomore at Istrouma High School in Baton Rouge, I listened to our principal, Little Fuzzie Brown, on the loudspeaker in the morning and at our school assemblies. He told us, “You attend the greatest school in this state, and you have the responsibility of keeping it that way. You have to take the initiative and do what’s right before it becomes a problem. If you see a piece of paper on the ground, pick it up. If you see someone doing something wrong, report it. If you know what to do, do it! It you don’t know what to do, find out and then do it!”
We knew if we were going to be champions, we had to do our best and be the best. “Do what’s right, even if no one is watching!” Mr. Brown told us.
Growing up in Baton Rouge in the 1950’s, it was a safe place for kids, because grown ups took responsibility. I roamed my neighbors for blocks around my house all by myself or with my buddies. The grown ups were always looking out for us. We could stop at any house and ask for a drink of water or to use the bathroom, and we were always welcome. They might offer us cookies or some of what was cooking for supper. No one called the police and said our parents were neglecting us! At age 9 or 10, I rode the bus downtown from Fairfields every Saturday by myself. I met my friends there, and we’d go to the movies at the Paramount or the Hart and then go to McCrory’s or Walgreen’s. Many were the times that I would see one of my friends misbehave, and some adult would grab them and spank them right on the spot. Or a storekeeper would grab them by the arm and say, “Boy, what’s your mama’s name? I’m gonna call her right now!” “Oh no sir,” they would plead, “please don’t call my mama!” “All right then, boy, get on about your business and don’t let it happen again!” “Yes sir, I won’t!”
Adults — actual grown ups — were in charge and took responsibility. They had fought in a great war where everything was at risk. They weren’t going to allow their nation, their state, their city, or their neighborhood be wild and lawless.
Some vestige of this survives. I heard Supt. Warren Drake tell his principals, “If I hear about a problem in your school before you’ve solved it, you’re too late!” He’s made it very clear: Take care of what’s going wrong, or you won’t have a job!
But mostly, we’ve become a nation — and a state — of onlookers and bystanders.
We allow every manner of outrage to occur in our community, and we do nothing.
Except one thing: Complain.
Especially at election time.
We criticize every candidate mercilessly.
The easiest thing in the world to be is a cynic, or a critic, to sit and run your mouth about how bad the politicians are.
Most people actually have no clue what they are talking about. They don’t do their homework and find out what the candidates actually stand for.
In fact, they don’t do much of anything except run their mouths. They don’t get involved and contribute to a campaign. They don’t volunteer to help. Most people don’t even vote.
But, boy, they love to complain. Especially on Facebook. They can run down every leader who emerges. They run down everyone — whether he’s doing a good job or a bad job, because the reality is, they don’t have a clue who is doing what. Yet, that doesn’t prevent them from speaking out loudly.
Political campaigns in our state have sunk lower and lower — with more and more negative personal attacks. Negative campaigning is a great evil, but the reality is most of the attacks are not even true. They are a trap for fools — intended to make them vote against their own beliefs and interests.
Nothing feeds cynicism more than negative campaigning. If someone spends $1 million telling everyone you are a thief, I will assure you that even your best friends won’t want to be seen with you — even if the allegation is completely false. Thus, all political consultants should be horsewhipped!
Today we have become a nation of cynics — unwilling to enter the arena ourselves. Unwilling even to lift a finger for those fighting for us in the arena! But ever willing to believe the worse, play the critic, and run our nation down.
The truth is, while every human being has fallen short, our leaders don’t have to be perfect. They can be brilliant, courageous, hardworking, and compassionate, even though they do have some flaws.
If you are waiting for the perfect governor, president, legislator, or city council member, you will be waiting a very long time indeed.
But don’t be a cynic. Be a participant in the life of our nation, state, and city. Don’t be a whining, complaining cynic. Rather, be the hero of your life’s own story. Get involved, and make a difference.
Do your homework, find out who the good candidates are, and help elect them. Or if there are none who meet your standards, decide to run yourself!