The Wrong Amount of Cynicism

In my last piece, I wrote about how my friend Mark has the right amount of cynicism to enhance his writing.

I think I may have the wrong amount. Not for writing, but for life.

Two weeks ago my wife Sonja and I took our daughter Molly to the beach. Sonja supervised while Molly swam. I took over when Molly toddled to the playground. When I glanced back at Sonja I saw her talking to an older man I did not know. They seemed engrossed in conversation. A couple of minutes later I looked again. It wasn’t a conversation. Sonja was on the receiving end of a monologue.

Molly scampered back to the water and I followed. We built sand castles, waded up to her waist and splashed around. When we packed up ten minutes later Sonja was still being talked at. Molly and I walked over and Sonja introduced me to the man. Probably the first words she’d spoken in fifteen minutes. He was in his seventies. Fit. Amiable. We exchanged pleasantries. I didn’t stick around.

Later, Sonja told me she’d enjoyed talking to him. He’d led a fascinating life. Military service, law enforcement, travel, successful children.

My response – “I wonder if anything he said was true?”

Sonja is kind, smart, and a good judge of character. She believed he was truthful.

I hope she’s right.

My cynicism may be a product of being a cop for almost 20 years. Or maybe I became a cop because it’s a profession where cynicism is a necessary tool. People lie to the police. Normal people. All the time. “I only had two beers officer. I’m fine to drive.” Or, “no I didn’t hit my wife, she fell and hurt herself.” Regular people sometimes do awful things, and, not surprisingly, don’t want to be arrested.

I want to believe people. Whether I’m speaking to them at work, or along a beach in Shawnigan Lake, somehow, my first instinct remains to do so. That inclination remains deep within me.

But I’ve developed a filter. A combination of gut-feeling and analytical evaluation.

It’s a necessary filter at work. It can be helpful in everyday life. But it colours the way I see the world, and I’m not sure I like that. It’s a short step from cynicism to negativity and anger.

A week later, Sonja, Molly and I were in a different park in a different city. Molly played, while we socialized with a friend.

A woman I did not know joined the conversation. A mother, she too was there with her child. I listened while this mother, and our friend talked about children, and nature.

The mother steered the conversation to how this park which we all stood on was on “stolen land” and how she struggled with explaining that concept to her daughter. The mother assumed everyone present agreed.

I didn’t. Or, perhaps more accurately I agreed but with a giant asterisk. Pick anywhere on the globe where humans live and look back in time – sometimes ten years, sometimes ten thousand – and chart the history of civilizations, populations, and borders constantly changing. Nations and nationalities rise and fall, merge and move, live together in peace and devour each other in conflict. History is complicated and messy. Like life.

I didn’t speak up in the park. I was not cynical about this mother’s sincerity. Far from it. Her convictions were heartfelt and sincere.

But I was cynical about her assuming that my friend and I agreed with her premise.

Which made me angry. Quickly. So I said nothing.

It is not my intention to write about Canada’s Native population and the sad and tragic history which has resulted in so much suffering. Except, I will say this. I believe that one of Canada’s great strengths is our multiculturalism. Not the theory of multiculturalism, but the reality of it. We have built a nation in which ethnic groups and nationalities from all over the world live together. And it works pretty well, most of the time. Except our First Nations aren’t part of that. And I’m not sure that we are taking any meaningful steps to address that. I read and hear much about reconciliation. I worry that it is an empty word, comprised of well meaning gestures, and ten or twenty years from now, nothing will have changed.

I read my own words, and worry too, that they lack compassion.

That I am too quick to dismiss the suffering of others.

That I am too willing to believe that a nice man lied to my wife on a beautiful day in the hot sun along a quiet beach.

That instead of remaining silent in the park, I should have spoken with that mother. Engaged with her point of view. Challenged my own assumptions. Opened my mind and considered that maybe she is right and I am wrong.

I worry that I have the wrong amount of cynicism.







Inspired by Mark and a Dose of Doctor Danica

My friend Mark is a writer and photographer. Mark’s compassion, wonder, and wit, combined with a healthy dose of cynicism make each of his blog posts a joy to read. Each photo complements every word. Check out his blog at

Mark’s pursuit of his passions inspired this blog. Writing is integral to the person I am. Yet I’ve stopped writing. I’m challenging myself to write regularly and asking you to read it if you like it and delete it if you don’t.

Mark re-entered my life recently. Electronically at least. I never wanted him to leave it. But we drifted when life intervened. As it does.

Not many years ago, Mark helped get me through my darkest days. My ex-partner’s cancer diagnosis rattled me like nothing before. Until I rattled again, just a few months later when our decade long relationship ended during her treatment. I retreated to a basement suite. I retreated into myself.

Mark buoyed me at my lowest ebb. We worked together, laughed together and drank beer in the park together. Every Thursday night meant growlers, gossip and Capoeira in Victoria’s Central Park. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art. We didn’t practice it but we certainly enjoyed watching the best combination of beautiful lithe bodies, and not so beautiful not so lithe bodies we’d ever seen contorting in public. “Capoeira” became a codeword for Thursday nights. Capoeira was spiritual gold when I was spiritually bankrupt.

Mark and I became vegans at the same time together too. Not surprising for me. The world is full of scrawny running vegans. But Mark is big and strong and outgoing. Not the stereotypical vegan. His courage to pursue a lifestyle that many still raise their eyes at, helped give me the courage to live my beliefs.

When I began to feel more like a whole person again, I tried online dating. In my profile I described myself as Reader, Writer, Runner.

I met a beautiful and very special woman. Sonja is my wife now. Before we married, we had a daughter. Molly was born on my 45th birthday. A gift beyond comprehension.

Life changed. As it does.

Reading, once a daily ritual, became a rare luxury.

Running never left me. It just changed. Less time to train, fewer miles, and different goals. Goodbye sub-three hour marathon. Instead running became its own essence. The pursuit of physical and mental health.

Goodbye writing. The most difficult and least enjoyable of the three, it was easy to stop making the effort when time came at such a premium.

But then Mark inspired me. With words from France. With his example – taking the time to be true to himself, while still being a wonderful husband and father.

I read Mark’s latest posts while Sonja and I were in Victoria on a mini-vacation. Molly burst with joy everywhere we went: petting goats in Beacon Hill Park, riding a big red bus, sitting beside her dad eating bacon for breakfast. I burst with joy every moment too, with my ladies at my side.

As we were about to leave town, I called my friend Danica. I hadn’t seen her in almost three years. We’d barely communicated. She had never met Molly. Yet I still felt close to her. She was yet another friend I had let slip through my life.

We parked outside Danica’s home and I called her. She wasn’t far away, walking her dog. We drove to her. Embraced. Showed off Molly. Walked. Talked. Laughed.

We ended up in a nearby park. Molly climbed to the top of a slide. Four to six feet off the ground. There was sand on the slide. Molly slipped, fell backwards, and hit the ground. Sonja and I were too far away to catch her. Too far away to see where she hit, or how she hit. We were close enough to see her tumble. Close enough to hear her cry. We both ran to her, not knowing what we were about to find.

It was the most scared I have ever been. I didn’t know if my daughter had been critically hurt. My head went to the worst place imaginable.

Sonja picked her up. Molly sobbed. Danica stood beside us. In all my worry, I had a sliver of consolation. Danica was a doctor. Doctor Danica. We’d met years earlier in a writing class. She is a talented writer, an accomplished doctor, a mom, a wife and a wonderful human being.

Danica examined Molly. Nothing broken. No bleeding. Head good. Pupils good. Ears good. Moving just fine.

It may be the most thankful I have ever been.

When Molly stopped crying I told her she was brave and strong and asked her if she wanted to climb back up the slide. She did. Up she went, and down she went. This time sliding, not falling.

It may be the most proud I have ever been.

We didn’t spend long with Danica. A few minutes before the fall, a few minutes after. But she inspired me. She is pursuing her passions. For teaching children about nature, and the environment and the connectivity of all things.

The next morning my family was back home. Molly could not stop talking about Dr. Danica, asking for “story about Molly fell and Dr. Danica.” So, with a little help from dad, Molly called Dr. Danica. They talked for a few minutes. Molly asked Dr. Danica if she had any toys, and if she liked pink cars. My heart warmed.

There are quite a few Marks and Dr. Danicas in my life. If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you are one of those people. Someone who is important to me. Someone whose friendship I value. Someone who has shared good times with me, and helped me through bad times. Someone I’ve let slip out of my life.

Mark and Dr. Danica reminded me of the importance of keeping the people that matter close.

Mark and Dr. Danica inspired me to write again.