We all know the world is full of assholes. Insecure and defensive humans trolling forums and tweeting us 140 character of passive aggression. We know as well as you that they are not worth worrying about. No, it’s you. A Parent. A Friend. A Lover. You’re the one we should be worried about.
I want to be clear about who I’m referring to here. Which cynic I’m talking about.
I’m not talking about the the bespeckled forum troll, the overworked and underpaid game reviewer or unfathomably successful youtube critic. I’m not talking about criticism (constructive or otherwise).
I am talking about the well meaning friend. The fearful parent. The unconvinced lover.
People we love, look up to and depend on for strength. Those few we are entirely defenseless against.
I’m writing for hopeless optimists everywhere, like me. Hopeless because we know exactly what odds we’re fighting against.
And we still wake up, every day, to fight them anyways.
My Very Dear, Cynical Friends
You mean well. You’re only saying this because you care. You don’t want to see us disappointed. You believe that what we are doing is so hopeless that you feel the overwhelming need to protect us from inevitable despair.
Translation: you don’t believe in us.
Think about that for a moment. Because it won’t feel good to admit. If you had faith in us you wouldn’t be pointing out the impossibility of the task we’ve set ourselves. You wouldn’t be questioning our choices or gently teasing us for misguided nobility.
And in that moment we know you’re dangerous. You are inside our defenses and you have our undivided attention. We can’t protect ourselves against you.
When you tell us it’s hopeless, that it can’t be done…you give us one less reason to wake up fighting. You have just reminded us that we’re doing this alone.
We can take the slings and arrows of professional and popular critics. We’re building up a resistance against that.
What you just gave us is a slow poison. It will kill us.
The moment you subtly try to steer us off course or nudge us off the path it becomes starkly clear that you never believed we could do it in the first place.
What kind of damage does that do? When someone you love, respect and admire has just signaled to you that they have no faith in you?
It was my sophomore year of high school. I had just discovered theater and with it budding social skills. School transformed from a confusing and awkward torture to an intriguing puzzle. As an introvert (seriously, I know it’s hard to believe) this was like a Peter Parker “spider bite” moment – I had super powers! If I could figure out what people responded well to, I could get things done!
Every day I looked forward to class, not for the subject matter (we all know by now how useless the American K-12 education system is) but for the opportunity to develop these fascinating new talents.
I had always looked at beautiful popular girls and witty charming guys with envy. They made it look so effortless! They walk into a room, smile and have the love of student body and faculty alike. Theatre and improv gave me the gift of social skills and it felt like a whole world of opportunity was opening up to me.
And then the first one died.
We read about it in the paper over morning coffee and heard about it on school intercoms.
Valedictorian. School cheerleader. Killed herself last night.
We didn’t talk about it because we didn’t know how. The story didn’t fit the trope, we hadn’t seen this episode before, didn’t have a practised response. She was so happy, so full of life and so positive. Full of optimism for the future.
It was obvious to everyone that knew her that she was going to do great things.
The next day there was another one.
The day after that two more.
Newspapers dubbed us “Suicide High“. It wasn’t teenage suicide that made the headlines. That’s sadly common enough that it become a narrative technique, a “sudden twist” in dramatic late night television.
What made these deaths newsworthy was how unbelievable they were. We could not believe. These were the most popular, successful kids at school. They had fan clubs…and they weren’t even old enough to drink yet!
We learned later that it wasn’t a broken heart, failed test or missed opportunity that killed these kids.
It was loving parents.
Parents who cared so much about their kids, who loved them so much, that they felt the need to be cruel to be kind. These kids went to school every day with strangers telling them how amazing they were. They came home to “that was pointless”, “what were you thinking?”, “you idiot!”.
Fear and insecurity makes assholes of us all.
You Are More Influential Than You Know
Here’s another story, a few years later.
I had graduated high school (mostly because I didn’t have anything better to do at the time) and was pouring my afternoons and evenings into a career in theatre (read: waiting tables). I had stayed on stage and as a funny looking, energetic girl, found a niche for myself with quirky character roles and improv dinner theatre.
I was also illustrating heaps at the time because I was good at it and it was a way to pass the time between scenes.
One day a very dear friend of mine leaned over and said “hey, I know some folks doing 3D right now that are not as good as you…you should totally think about getting into the animation industry”.
That same friend invited me to visit Australia with them and within a year I got my first job as a 3D artist.
Nearly 8 years later, after an amazing career in both film and games, I’m sitting here writing this now because of that moment when someone I cared about showed faith in me that I could do more. That I was capable of being more than an unpaid actress waiting tables by day.
Now those of you who know me know that I’ve fought hard to get to where I am now. But I don’t think I would have been able to keep fighting if someone hadn’t opened my eyes to what was possible.
And I bet you can think of a few moments in your life where you can tell a similar story. When a friend, teacher or relative introduced you to your own potential. Made you realise you were worth fighting for.
It takes two seconds to destroy a life.
And it takes two seconds to open our eyes to a new one.
Every one of us has enormous power to influence the lives of the people who look up to us.
It’s hard to be positive. It’s easy to be cynical. I know.
But you will rarely be given the opportunity to recognise how much you can hurt others. We are better at hiding that than you give us credit for.
Every thoughtless word said in anger is a loaded gun placed on the table between you and someone you love.
Think before you speak. Please.
To all you community organisers who put hours you don’t have into running events and invest money you can’t afford to spend into growing the industry you love; To the successful indies who put your reputations on the line to publicly stand up and speak out to change the culture of your industry; To every kid who was ever told “Give up, don’t bother, you’re not good enough”. I love you, I believe in you, keep fighting.