Thursday, May 16, 2024

Quote of the Day (Stephen Colbert, on Cynicism, ‘A Self-Imposed Blindness’)

“Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.”—American comic and late-night talk-show host Stephen Colbert, Commencement Address at Knox College, Galesburg, IL, June 3, 2006

The traditional commencement exercises that had been scheduled for yesterday by my alma mater were cancelled a few days ago.

I’m not going to retrace the words and actions that led to this decision. But I thought I would offer for students there and elsewhere in this tumultuous year a replacement of sorts, a throwback to another commencement address, from Stephen Colbert nearly two decades ago.

Extreme idealism—demands expected be fulfilled immediately—is also blindness. But the deformed moral vision that Colbert identified is more deadly in the long run, because it withers the soul day by day.

If you want to know something close to my philosophy on change, I can think of few lines better than these, from Bernard Malamud’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Fixer:

“I am somewhat of a meliorist. That is to say, I act as an optimist because I find I cannot act at all, as a pessimist. One often feels helpless in the face of the confusion of these times, such a mass of apparently uncontrollable events and experiences to live through, attempt to understand, and if at all possible, give order to; but one must not withdraw from the task if he has some small things to offer—he does so at the risk of diminishing his humanity.”

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