How Do You Keep From Becoming Cynical As You Get Older?

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If there’s a single defining characteristic of the older people I’ve known, it’s an unwillingness to recognize the validity of challenging information, a close-mindedness where they seem convinced that their personal opinions are the absolute truth.

With time, engaged people who once held nuanced views of social or political issues become hardcore, dogma-spouting conservatives/liberals. Conversations with old friends revolve around “the fun things we used to do.” People who once cherished the growth that comes from new experience default to thinking, “This is just like the old thing, except not as good.”

Part of me fears it’s inevitable. Maybe set-in-your-ways bull-headedness is the logical end of the filtering process of modern life, where, aided by algorithms and prejudice, we gravitate to things, people, and ideas that reassure us, while building barriers against anything that troubles us, until eventually we end up re-breathing fetid air in a mental space so small we can’t even talk to anyone we disagree with.

It’s easy to lay the blame on “experience.” To think the world is such an unjust place that the only possible result of seeing more of it is building up ever thicker mental armor. But that hasn’t been my lived experience. I was much more cynical when I was younger, and every worthwhile moment I have had since was because I became less cynical, because I was open to something new, as corny as that sounds. Based on everything I’ve seen (and research), it’s clearly more beneficial, personally and financially, to stay open-minded and avoid slipping down the rabbit hole of the perpetually jaded.

But cynicism still creeps in. Even though I know better, I still find myself thinking, “Back in my day, we understood what good music sounded like/how to act/the importance of work/which drugs are fun/insert whatever here.” I still find myself turning down invitations so I can stay home and watch The Twilight Zone, or hearing about some new trend or movement and dismissing it as worthless before I even learn what it’s about or find out if I can be enriched by it.

So let me put it out to you: How do you stay open and hopeful in this fallen world? Is it even possible? Give me (and the world) your personal tips to avoid mental and emotional calcification in the comments below.

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