Another blogger pointed me to this little essay yesterday - In Defense of Earnestness - which should be read by all.
Today I went to my neighborhood pool to swim laps - well, by "swim laps" I mostly mean, swim two laps, catch my breath, swim a lap, wait 30 seconds... I only halfway know what I'm doing and it's very, very hard. Which is why, when I approached the gate and saw a middle-aged couple enjoying the cool evening in those plastic-slatty lounge chairs, my first instinct was to flee. In coming to the pool, I meant to flounder about in peace (or as peacefully as trying desperately not to breathe water can be), as I've been doing this whole week. But it's a long walk to the pool, I thought, and eventually someone would have to witness my struggle, and if the unsuspecting neighbors became too embarrassed on my behalf they could leave just as well as I. So I waved at the people with my fresh-faced girl-smile and resolutely pretended to be a Swimmer. We exchanged comments about the temperature of the water.
So of course they were watching me, probably talking about me, and I tried to just focus on left, right, breathe so no one would feel too awkward. I wanted my audience to propel me to do better but that mostly didn't happen; I was my normal, slow, gaspy self. And so I was completely taken aback when on lap six I lost the rhythm (again), stood up sputtering and heard the sound of CHEERING. My unknown neighbors were totally impressed that I could swim at all; they wanted me to get to the other side even more than I did. "Keep going! You can do it!" So I did, just for them.
Their sheer earnestness was completely disarming. They didn't say to me later, as a conversation starter, "Not to be a creeper but I saw you are fairly competent at swimming". They didn't say, "Aw, come on, why'd you quit?". For whatever reason they became emotionally invested in my progress and took the risk of cheering me on, and they certainly didn't look any cooler but I think we were all happier. When I got out of the pool I even started a conversation with them, and I don't talk to strangers, but I just wanted to be their friend.
I was raised in a sarcastic family before sarcasm was cool. I satire for a hobby. I self-deprecate compulsively even though I honestly have a very high opinion of myself. I don't think I could ever eliminate the dry wit from my speech or the sarcasm from my thoughts (although I can filter fairly well). But I also think we could all use a reminder: the carefully studied indifference and backhanded compliments and sarcasm battles that define our generation's attitudes are, more often than not, simple cowardice. Sarcasm has become so pervasive that half the time it's not even funny, just a knee-jerk reaction. But to strip down to the simple, straightforward sentence, to be disingenuous - that is the real skill, the real test, not of how hip you are but how little you can bear to hide behind.
When was the last time you cheered someone on? When was the last time someone cheered you on?