At times, it can be really easy to fall into a pit of cynicism and view everything as a veil, or a carefully crafted performance, that buries the truth under festive wrapping paper and a really big bow, so we cannot see the holes.
Note: This whole post is a slow burn, so stay with me. Stay engaged.
Maybe it is the elected officials – many of whom are speaking from a place of demographic appeasement. It is the, “What can I say, to make this specific group happy?” approach. It is not opaque, and yet it is presented as such.
“What do you mean I was not genuine? Read the transcript.”
Yes, the classic, “Shaking your head, while giving a thumbs up.” How very, “What, who, me?” of them.
We are supposed to believe the words coming out of their mouth are coming from a place of care and concern, rather than a specific filing cabinet in their head. We are supposed to look at their disheveled pandemic appearance and find it relatable.
Public figures try so hard to convince us they are just like us. And maybe they are. But they must realize that we are the ones who decide how relatable they actually are, not them.
Otherwise, it just feels like they are pandering. Right?
Maybe it is all the statements, released by every public relations department. We have become too smart for them. The wording – whatever. The timing – that is what we notice.
Oh, you care about this cause now? Why not three years ago? Is it because enough people got mad at you? Is it because the world is demanding you change your position? Do you actual believe in this, or is it merely to stop the bleeding?
I am looking at you, NFL. What took so long? Four years ago, you had a quarterback – the most important position in your sport – take a knee during the national anthem.
Colin Kaepernick. He was peacefully protesting police brutality, racial injustice, and systemic oppression.
And your response was, “Oh no, we can’t have this. It is disrespectful to the flag! To the military! Let us quietly blackball him from the league, so we don’t have a prolonged PR nightmare on our hands.”
Forget your hands; open your eyes and ears.
I guess that is what happens when you wrap your entire league in a flag – you cannot see the forest for the trees. You cannot see the human beings for the stars and stripes.
Every NFL offseason is met with, “Why is no one hiring a black Head Coach when there are multiple qualified candidates?”
Are we expected to believe the NFL has had a “Come to Jesus” moment and will finally do everything in its power – and they have a lot of power – to be a real ally for all of the black players, coaches, and personnel in the league?
Are league officials and owners going to be (secretly) upset when players take a knee during the national anthem next season, or will they be proud that they have people in their league who realize that what happens off the field is far more important than anything that happens on it?
I do not know.
Pulling the camera off of the NFL – what about when athletes release statements?
When an athlete makes a mistake, or “gets into trouble”, they put out a nice, fancy apology that, unless it is a screenshot from the Notes app on their phone and has numerous spelling mistakes, I am never convinced they wrote the whole thing themselves. Even then, I am skeptical.
But the apology is always a variation of the same three things.
1. Admit what they did was wrong.
2. Apologize to the people they hurt.
3. Talk about the steps they are taking to be better.
We have all seen that multiple times before. After a while, it starts to lose meaning because we see it as their ticket – a mere formality – to return to the game they love, rather than a sincere apology.
Maybe it comes from the fact that we are constantly being sold on something. You wake up every day to a bunch of new emails from those companies you gave your information to eleven years ago because you bought one item.
They hit you with the ol’ one-two punch.
They want to let you know they care about you “during these unprecedented times”, right before they try and convince you to give them your money.
How sweet, right?
Behind those emails is a person, or group of people, who put them together. They are just doing their job. Email marketing.
It is not just products we are being sold on. Go to your Instagram feed. Your friends are selling you on their happiness and grand life moments, which some try to offset with a short caption, as to not totally shove a sparkling rainbow down our throats.
Why? Because they know that we know, that they know that we know, that everything on Instagram is not always what it seems. And even when it is, it is hiding something they do not want to share.
We all know this. We all do it.
We all get on the social media merry-go-round and get off pretending we do not have to puke. Then we come back from the washroom after fifteen minutes and say, “Oh, there was a long line.”
Now, this social media example could probably be classified as skepticism, but would it be a hard leap to make to say that it conditions us to be cynical in other situations?
Perhaps? I do not have the answer.
Up to this point, I have outlined different ways in which we can be pulled down a pit of cynicism. And make no mistake, we get yanked down there. There is no step ladder or shiny sign that says, “Watch your step.”
It is easy to utter the cliché, “Don’t be a cynic”. Okay, “Don’t eat fast-food.” People still do it. You can limit how much fast-food you have, so maybe we can limit how much cynicism enters our psyche?
I agree – we should not be cynics. Smart? Yes. Critical thinkers? Absolutely. But to see the world as a place where someone is constantly running the play-action fake against us, is no way to live.
Think about this for a minute: Think about the communication between Them and Us.
Them are people in positions of power; people who have a following.
Us are, well, not Them.
We are a society that sees through fake. We know when someone is speaking from the heart; we know when someone is just looking for votes in the next election.
Politicians are very good at reading what has been written for them. Does it always translate well through the television screen? No. Sometimes, it comes off as insincere.
What is the solution? To go off the cuff? That could be disastrous. See: Exhibit D.
Perhaps, it would be refreshing to hear leaders in non-formal settings, talking like real people about relatable things like: sports, music, television shows, or food. Let us see a different side, to help quell our cynical reflex.
I mentioned email marketing earlier. The repetition and similarities between company emails is nauseating, no matter how well-intentioned they are.
It is like when someone sends you an email and starts with, “I hope this finds you well.” By the eighth time, you want to reply, “NO, I AM NOT WELL.”
We get so caught up in proper etiquette and niceties, that we turn everything into a cliché and forget there are other ways to greet the human-being on the other end.
All I am looking for is a real voice. I am not looking for a voice I have already heard a million times before. I have already developed a conclusion for that voice – give me something I cannot so easily disregard.
Does this make sense? Good.
What am I getting at? Where have I been slowly going with this whole thing?
You have all heard the name, George Floyd, by now. He was murdered by a police officer who would not take his knee off his neck. Three other officers stood by and did nothing.
I assume most of us have seen the video. I assume a lot of us did not find it shocking. That is the scary thing. We have seen this before in various forms.
Colin Kaepernick saw this before – he took a knee. How heartbreakingly ironic.
In the days following George Floyd’s death, there have been peaceful protests in every state, as well as all over the world. There were also opportunists, who took advantage of the ability to hide within a large crowd.
Windows were smashed. Cars were flipped. Fires were set. Retail stores were robbed – not even the mannequins were safe. More fires were set.
And where was the leader to calm the masses? Where was the person, who was elected to unite people in times when they were down? Where was the voice of love and compassion?
They were on Twitter making things worse. Of course. A tried-and-true hiding spot.
Racism is a massive systemic problem. It is not new. This did not just show up on our social media feed for the first time two weeks ago. We have always known it was there.
White people can never begin to understand what a black person goes through every single day. We can hear their stories, and our hearts will break for them, but to fully put ourselves in their shoes is impossible.
What we can do is educate ourselves. We can listen. We can stand with. We can speak up. We can call-out. We can do so much more.
As I said before, the communication between Them and Us needs to be better. Normally, it’s Them telling Us. Right now, though, it needs to be Us telling Them.
All of a sudden, every sports team, company, and anyone with a mailing list, has an opinion on racial inequality. Oh. Okay.
That was Us telling Them.
All of a sudden, we are seeing videos every day of police brutality and people in positions of power are taking notice. Oh. Okay.
That was Us telling Them.
By the way, why do the police feel the need to wear more equipment than Buzz Lightyear in football gear, when the protestors are not doing anything except standing there, chanting?
And what is with all the fences? And the dozens, and dozens, of armed personnel standing behind them? And why are they shoving elderly men to the ground? And why are they…this could go on forever.
Do the protestors have an invisibility cloak on top of a fleet of tanks, that they are going to break the fences down with? What am I missing? What are they afraid of?
Granted, last night, there seemed to be no/very little police presence at the protests.
Perhaps, that was Us telling Them, again.
It has been eloquently said that, “It is not enough to be not racist, you have to be anti-racist.”
Cynicism will say that racist people will not change. They may act like they have, to fit in, but deep down, they will always be racist.
Cynicism will say that systemic racism will never be toppled.
Cynicism will say that the police will never treat black people with the same respect as white people.
Perhaps, a pessimist may say all of those things, too.
But, I think it is worth trying to teach people another way of thinking. Another way of behaving. Another way of viewing people who do not look like them.
Equality should not be controversial. Equality should not be a debate. A hierarchy based on the colour of our skin should anger you, even if you are in pole position.
If we want people to evolve, we have to give them the chance to evolve.
The collective Us need to hold each other accountable.
As for Them – the public companies, leagues, and figures – we will be able to judge their commitment to their PR statements by observing their actions that follow.
If the NFL is serious about supporting their players, let’s see it.
If Drew Brees can, seemingly, change his stance over the course of 24 hours, let’s see it.
If politicians want to do more to help end racial injustice and racial inequality, let’s see it.
If police departments say they can do better, let’s see it.
This list can go on and on.
But, let’s see it.
It is easy to be cynical right now and think, “When the pandemic ends and life goes back to normal everyone will just conveniently forget.”
Let’s not be cynical. Let’s not forget.
Let’s be persistent.