Cynicism Meets Mentor

I am halfway done with graduate school. There’s a part of me that is ashamed I haven’t written here all semester long, for there’s been plenty to write about. Then, there is a part of me that is not ashamed whatsoever because they’re things I can’t really write about—namely, my teaching experiences thus far. I got to teach every Friday for five hours this semester, and it was quite the learning curve. But obviously I can’t get on here and write about anything specific because that wouldn’t be fair to any students who have Googled my name (you know who you are) and stumbled upon this blog. Actually, that’s not the reason. Considering what’s “fair to them” is the last thing on my mind since the semester is over. What I mean is it wouldn’t be professional. Being that schmuck who gets online and vents about his students? No, thanks. I don’t want to be that guy. I’m not that cynical. And besides, I didn’t have hardly any bad experiences to write about anyway. This semester went really well. But to get on here and write about good or bad realities is not acceptable. Such stories shall be reserved for conversation and not for a written account for the entire world to see on the internet. So, if I ever do write about teaching on here, it will probably only be about stories I hear from my peers and their classes, for we do love to let off some steam in our graduate office by sharing how ridiculous undergraduate students act and how they think they know how things should work and how et cetera et cetera et cetera. But that will not happen here. Not right now at least. Again I’m not that cynical.

But I do write about cynicism on here from time to time and always in a religious vein. And whenever I come back to write about it again, it’s usually because I had yet another encounter with it. Such was the case about two months ago.

I ran into another Christian twenty-something male. The usual. The first to jump into the conversation. A raised voice. Didn’t listen to others. Wouldn’t consider opinions of others or their researched ideas. Contradicted himself, but only believed others were contradicting themselves. Pounded the table. Only presented his side of the argument, but didn’t research the opposing view. One-track mind. Indignant that others would question him.

I walked away praying that he would not be given a position of leadership in the Church until something drastic in his head (and heart especially) changed.

I could take the time to recount what my friend and I talked about with this guy, but that would take way too long. An apt simplification sums it up nicely. He used Bible verses to show how a situation was black-and-white, and we suggested he consider some other verses that, while they didn’t nullify his, simply showed the issue to be more on the grey side.

My friend and I had to leave eventually, and we weren’t sorry to have to cut the conversation short. The kid had been doing that already, interrupting us multiple times. He would shoot down our ideas without even thinking about what he had said. His reasons that we were wrong always came back to, “Because I just said X, Y, or Z.” Essentially, we were wrong because he was right. In his mind, we were arguing 1 + 1 = 5, and he was screaming at us that the answer was two.

Now, I’ve mentioned this before in other posts (type in “cynicism” in the top right search bar), but I’ll say it again. Whenever I run into these kids, it’s a time of déjà vu. Four years ago, I was that kid. The one screaming, “Two! Two! TWO! The answer is TWO!” Whenever I come away from yet another encounter with a twenty-something male, I wonder (and ask right now of anyone who knew me several years ago when I was steeped in my own bout of cynicism): Was I really this infuriatingly inconsiderate? I ashamedly apologize if I was. I had no idea.

And I think that’s the problem. The twenty-something male doesn’t know what he’s doing. He has no clue. For him, he’s just spreading truth because, after all, “Can’t you see how right I am?” But even if the kid is right in some of his arguments, here’s the overarching problem he creates with the people to whom he is talking:

We literally do not care what he is saying. At all.

At least, I sure don’t anymore. He could be right as rain, but I will use my umbrella to deflect him away to dribble off onto the ground. Why? Because everything comes back to the way he couches his argument and what words he chooses to use for the structure of everything he says. For the cynical male who believes he’s right, it’s easy to think, “Why wouldn’t someone listen to me? I’m speaking truth, so what is the problem here?” But therein lies the problem. The twenty-something male is so consumed with his correctness, his right(eous)-ness, that he doesn’t believe respectability, decorum, and a listening spirit need to be preserved above everything else. The detriment there is that this flies in the face of the urgent necessity of speaking the truth in love. But we’ve twisted that Scripture so much that it’s come to mean this instead: Say what you need to say to someone and say it however you need to, and if they start to get really offended by what you’re doing, just remind them, “Hey, I’m just telling you this because I love you.” Or, I’ve heard another person put it this way: “I love you enough to offend you.” Here’s the problem with that:

Truth does not give you license to be a jackass.

Here’s what we should probably take this verse to mean instead, as someone much older and wiser than myself explained to me: Everything you say should be spoken in love. Especially the truth. If you have something to say to someone that they really need to hear because of the truth it will impart to their life, say it in love. But if you find yourself unable to do that, then you just shouldn’t say anything, no matter how “important” it is you share this truth with this person. Love must come first.

And it makes sense why we would say this. Paul makes it clear that God is love. This is not an adjective. It is an equal plane existence. It is not a “this is like this” statement. It is a “this is this” statement. Now, is this made more complicated by Jesus saying, “I am the truth”? No, it is not. Because what is that truth? Well, when we consider Christ’s sacrifice, we come back to love again. We go from truth to love—love being the core. We don’t go from “God is love” first and then end on “God is truth.” Truth is not the end all. Truth points to something else, something more foundational. That’s why we say things like, “Well, the truth is . . .” and then follow that by explaining what the truth actually is. Or, if someone says something to us and we agree with it, we often will respond with, “That’s true,” which is not a stand-alone statement because we’re referring to what was just said.

Love always comes first. Truth is secondary. Love subsumes truth.

What’s the point of all of this lingual dissection? A significant problem is that the twenty-something male doesn’t think the truth needs to be spoken in love, or he might believe it needs to be done that way, but he’s forgotten how to do it. He will sacrifice love in order to get his point across. He will stop loving people so he can tell people why he’s right and they’re wrong.

What is the remedy to this? I can only speak from experience . . . and, actually, that’s just it: experience. The twenty-something male doesn’t have any, or rather, not enough of it. He’s in his twenties. He hasn’t lived life. He could have “seen the world,” but he still doesn’t know anything. Why? Because Time is the biggest and best educator there has ever been. This is why having mentors in one’s life is crucial. When I lived in Nashville for a year I was fortunate enough to have not one but three men much older than me pouring into my life. If my estimates are correct, their combined age would have been around 140 years lived to my miniscule twenty-three. My cynicism didn’t stand a chance. And yet, they didn’t launch some vendetta against me, and I think that was the key above all. They didn’t match my cynical tactics and go on a verbal offensive. They played a different game. They simply listened, letting me vent and allowing me to show what I “knew” without ever really buying into it themselves. But they still carefully considered everything I was saying, and all three of these men were the type wise enough to know how to ask questions I couldn’t answer.

I think what also helped was that all three men put me into life situations that forced me to grow. Two of them offered me jobs—very humbling jobs and work I’d never done before and learned very quickly I wasn’t “too good” to do. The third man extended small positions of leadership to me in the small group he and his wife hosted out of their home. There was an unspoken belief that he thought I was mature enough for that, which simultaneously meant he expected something of me, and that something most definitely was not cynicism.

None of these three men communicated with me what they were trying to do. But in retrospect, I see it with clarity. But perhaps the greatest thing all of them did was they never forced community upon me. Oh, they’d call me from time to time if I sort of dropped of the radar, but overall they left it to be something I had to pursue because that takes humility. It means you have to acknowledge, “Hey, I don’t possess what is needed on my own, and I need other people to make it in life.” That’s one of the things the twenty-something male doesn’t believe he needs. Far from it, in fact, for he can get to the point where he believes everybody else needs him and the “wisdom” and “knowledge” that he possesses of how everything actually “is.” But when you suddenly realize you can’t make it on your own, you can’t play that game anymore. When that epiphany hits, it helps to have an older person walking alongside you to help lessen the pain of your selfishness crashing and burning. I was fortunate enough to have three such men surrounding me when life got more complicated and less easy to explain.

At first I was going to type I wish that I could give the cynical kid from a couple of months ago an older mentor, but now I see that I wouldn’t do that. He has to pursue that older mentor himself. It’s the first step, if you will, to acknowledging there is a world, a humanity, a community beyond yourself, one that first and foremost doesn’t need you all the time; rather, you need it. And that’s a hard lesson to learn.

Much love.

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