Cynicism Is a Toxic Mental State that Inhibits Creativity
Our biggest goals are unlikely to be accomplished in our own lifetime, says New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. That's why forming coalitions and keeping a positive attitude are so essential.
Cory Booker is the junior United States senator from New Jersey. He was born in Washington, D.C., and his parents, who both worked for IBM, later relocated the family to Harrington Park, New Jersey. A star high school athlete, Booker received a football scholarship to Stanford University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar before earning his law degree from Yale University. Booker won a special election to fill the term of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg to become New Jersey’s first African American senator and only the twenty-first person in American history to ascend directly from mayor to senator. Booker lives in Newark’s Central Ward. His book, United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good, gives an account of his own political education that have shaped his particular civic vision for America.
Cory Booker: I have a saying that I’ve come to really believe in and it’s very simply never allow your inability to do everything to undermine your determination to do something. We live in a world where it’s almost impossible to bring about the transformations that you desire in a large setting in a single lifetime. Or to do those things alone. And you almost have to surrender to that understanding but yet work as if you could transform the world, have that kind of passion still animate you. And so it’s definitely difficult. There were definitely times in my career that I felt a sense of overwhelm about the challenges. But I think the more that I learned about how incapable I was, the more it turned on to me this understanding that I can therefore manifest my strength. Once I have that confession to myself that I’m not Superman or I don’t possess a magic wand to fix all this it suddenly makes you feel very dependent in an empowering way. And, you know, I went through these periods of my life where I had these aha’s like well wait a minute, I don’t have to do it all myself. In fact I can find coalitions with others that we can do more. In fact I found out that uncommon coalitions create uncommon change.
And probably one of the best things that’s happened to me was at the time where I really was broken, where I felt the weakest, the most vulnerable. It was the beginning of my political career. And I had just been elected to the city council and I faced opposition like I never imagined and a mayor that was abusing me, I felt was abusing me in pretty significant ways from my car getting ticketed all the time to even it coming out in the papers that my phones were being tapped. I couldn’t get anything passed in the legislature and the pressure on me was mounting to do something about the problems in the ward I represented. And I had this breaking point where I actually was very ugly towards a leader in my community who called for me for help. And I ended up being incredibly disrespectful to them letting out anger that had been building up and frustration that had been building up. But thanks to the wisdom of another person who in a very funny way said she had presented herself as a solution to my problems. And I said well what’s the big answer? And she said well I’ve got it. You know, what’s the big answer? And she goes to me you should do – and I’m like yeah. You should do something.
And I’m like what? She goes just do something about it. Just do something. You don’t have to solve the whole thing I think was her point. And I ended up doing something radically beyond what I imagined. And by the way this idea of cynicism about the challenges is a toxic mental and spiritual state because it undermines your creativity and it inhibits your ability to see faint possibility of its glaring challenges. And once you turn yourself into an agent of creativity and positivity despite the wretchedness of whatever reality you’re facing you have breakthroughs. And so what I decided to do was to pitch a tent in this very troubled projects that was calling me for help and announce to the world that I was going to go on a hunger strike until we did something about the problems that were there. And amazingly thousands of people came out to the tent to lend a hand. And before you knew it we were running activities for kids, job fairs. We had health trucks coming out form hospitals to do health screenings for us. We made some change.
Now did we solve all the problems? No but that energy that was unleashed by these folks coming together – black, white, Latino, Asian, Muslim leaders, Jewish leaders, Christian leaders, atheist. So many people came to that community that for a period of time we were able to make a big difference in the reality. And it was just a lesson to me that, you know, individually we’re so – we’re beautiful people who are so weak. I always used to say we’re like snowflakes, so fragile. But if you’ve been in a blizzard in the Northeast you know that when those snowflakes fragile, small come together they can make a big impact. And that’s what I’ve learned – one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my journey.
New Jersey Senator Cory Bookers tells the story of how he rose from the depths of despair to bring change to his local community through local action. We are all snowflakes, he says, not because we are all unique but because we are fragile as individuals and, like the blizzard, extremely powerful in groups. To accomplish your biggest goals in life, it's important to surrender the idea that they must be completed within your lifetime. Only when we activate the power of community, and other agents beyond the individual, will we arrive to affect real change.