American Culture

The hope of a tin man

Over the years, I’ve found that my ability to put my feelings on the shelf has served me well. The distance and perspective that this ability gives me is part of what makes me such a good engineer and, I like to think, a reasonably skilled journalist. But last Thursday, and every day since, I’ve been left wondering if this skill has cost me more than I realized.

I feel the same passions that others do, even greater if my youth was any indication, it’s just that I don’t permit myself to act on those passions except in the most carefully controlled ways. I learned long ago that I have a core of anger that gives me a great deal of strength, but that core can burst forth in a supernova of fury that leaves everything and everyone, including me, devastated when it finally burns itself out. But on Thursday, I was surrounded by people who didn’t have any problems with spontaneously erupting in cheers and applause when Obama said something that they approved of. It was like they’d somehow been granted the ability to believe in a way that I simply cannot do. They, like some of my friends, were inspired by Obama. They had their hope rekindled by Obama. For lack of a better word, they believed in Obama. And I cannot.

It’s not like I don’t want to – I do. Desperately. But I literally can’t. I’ve lived with being a cynic and skeptic for so long that it’s poisoned my outlook on nearly everything. I can’t allow myself to believe in any leader because not a single one of them has shown that they’re actually worthy of my faith. At least, that’s what I tell myself. In fact, I crave the kind of Bobby Kennedy moment that so many of my parents’ generation had. I long for the purity of faith that my children show every day. And I ache for the feelings of connection that so many feel with Obama.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if I had figured out a way to regulate my emotions instead of having just two settings – on and off. Because I’ve left them turned off for so long, it sometimes feels like I can’t relate to other people as well as I should, or even as well as I used to back in college. It sometimes feels like I can’t relate to my own children, that I’ve doomed myself to being one of those emotionally distant father figures that I don’t want to be. I know all the right words, but I can’t seem to find the emotional connection that underlies the words these days. And right now, that makes me feel almost as if I’m less than human somehow – little more than a tin man.

On the other hand, as my wonderful wife pointed out in, society needs people who can do what I do. When the true believers get behind the wheel, people like me keep society from carreening out of control. We’re always there to put the brakes on, to point out the unpleasant and unfortunate realities that the believers are able to conveniently ignore. For lack of a better word, I’m a reality check. A tin man with no heart, but an analytical computer for a mind.

Every so often I’d like to be able to flip the switch from “off” to”on” and be able to connect with someone at the level so many seem able to connect to Obama. I can’t do that with Obama, at least not yet. But I think I know what needs to happen for me to be able to have some hope, some faith, in Obama. I need the American people to illustrate that they’re smart enough to elect him in the first place, and then I need him to follow through on his promises. I can allow myself just enough hope this election cycle to vote for him, and hope that enough other will to.

9 replies »

  1. It takes strength and integrity not to get swept up in the momentum.

    Like you, though for different reasons (I come from the far left), I’m skeptical of Obama, but I still get caught up in his story and speeches and get all misty-eyed.

    In fact, I’m taking the day off after the election to deal with the resultant joy or depression.

  2. I see two things here, Brian.

    One is the suborning of emotions in your personal life, and I’ve been through that, so I think I may have an insight or two. All I can tell you is that supressing emotions in your personal life will, eventually, make life a very gray limbo indeed, rob you of much-deserved joy, and make you wonder why you continue to exist, at all, other than for a very dry and unsatifying sense of duty. It’s no way to live, my friend, and must be defeated at all costs. I wish you godspeed with the effort.

    The other thing I see is a very rational approach to politics and political figures. The fact is, our politicians, regardless of their side of the aisle, simply cannot lead the country too far from the statistical mode of voter wishes. It’s not possible without losing their jobs, and losing a job means losing the ability to effect any change for the better. So, these men and women are always limited by the electorate. It’s wise, in these cases, to understand that some promises cannot be fulfilled, and not to set one’s heart on them.

    I believe that all we can really hope for in politicians is that they are courageous enough to spend political capital and buck voter trends when they are right and it really, really matters. Many won’t do even this, and it is this lack of courage on their parts that feeds my personal skepticism.

    To me, though, skepticism means “show me,” and cynicism means “everything I see is a lie.” Logically, I know cynicism to be a false premise, so I’ll stick with being a skeptic. And I believe deeply, Brian, that if you really were a cynic, you would not have written this.

    Hang in there, friend. You deserve more.

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