At what point does a realist turn into a cynic? Is it inevitable? Is realism just a slightly less damaged version of cynicism? These are the questions I'm left asking myself after a conversation (ahem argument) I had with my almost 14 year old sister. She is still in a very innocent, un-jaded stage of her life and I'm... well I'm a decade or so ahead of her.
When not comparing myself to anyone I see myself as a level-headed optimist... or what I like to think of as a realist. I try to hope for the best but always plan for the worst. I've been where Charlotte was once, maybe even used to be a lot like her, so when I see her doing things that I did, that didn't end well, I tend to want to protect her from those things. That's when my cynicism starts to show. Charli wants to be everyone's friend, she has a huge heart and a naturally sweet disposition and she likes to see the best in everyone. I think I was like that once too, but it's been a long time ago now. I matured a lot quicker than most of my friends seemed to so I think I became a realistic pretty early on. So you see, there's a big gap between Charlotte and I. So know that when she said she had friends she wanted to get birthday gifts for and my reaction was to ask her if she thought they would be getting her presents next month on her birthday, I wasn't trying to bully her out of doing something nice for her friends, I was trying to help her avoid the heart ache that would come when they didn't return the favor, and as usual are not as good of a friend to her as she always is to them. Something that I can relate to all too well. Teenage girls are mean. And Charli's "friends" are no exception.
I know gift giving is not about getting something in return. In an ideal world people give gifts because they want to do something nice for someone else. Period. No strings attached. Unfortunately we are not in an ideal world. And just because you're nice to someone does not mean that they will be nice too. Especially teenagers who (at least some of) are inherently selfish and unaware of the feelings of others around them. That's why my first reaction was to make her think about whether or not her friends would be that kind to her on her birthday, or more like what I fear, and would not return the favor, leaving Charlotte heartbroken. Her response to my question was "I don't care, they're my best friends" (proceeded by a much wordier explanation as to why I am such a mean person all the time). Well maybe she's right. Maybe I've turned into this jaded adult cynic who can't be nice for the sake of being nice. Yes, I was trying to protect her from these girls, but was I also trying to force her into seeing things the cynical way that I do now? Maybe. How selfish of me.
Perhaps she's right to want to give these girls gifts, despite the fact that they don't appreciate her like they should and might not appreciate the presents. But I also can't help but try to protect her from that. Like I said, I've been there. But, maybe this situation isn't a learning moment for her, but for me. And maybe you. Maybe the act of giving something to someone else is the only thing that matters in this scenario. Maybe we're supposed to learn to give and see the good, and be optimistic, even if in the end you might be let down. Maybe sometimes we won't, and perhaps we have to hang onto those maybe's, to keep hoping, and stop being so cynical. Maybe I need to stop being so cynical, because I don't know when it happened, but it did. I went from optimist, to realist, to cynic. Maybe it's time I took a few steps back.