Friday, February 13, 2009

Life's too short to be so cynical

A few years ago I had a part-time summer job where I sold bets or "wagers" at the local horse-racing track. Yep, I was a bookie, according to my friends. It was your typical summer job... outdoorsy, not too rigorous, and it had an insignificant commute and bizarre hours. Anyway, my duties consisted of sitting on a barstool for five- and six-hour shifts, wearing a polo shirt and khakis and ringing up bets. The stools were populated by all sorts of "tellers" as we were called: college students on breaks (like me), teachers who had summers off, retirees who sought the socializing, those who worked at OTBs (off-track betting parlors) and others that were lured by the $12/hr plus tips the job offered.

Anyway, all types of people came to bet there as well: compulsive gamblers, families with young kids that wanted to see horses, 20-somethings that yearned to spend a summer day outside whilst draining mint juleps and other higher brow concoctions, and Red Hat Society ladies.

My personal pet peeve was when people asked the same stupid questions repeatedly. There'd always be the guy who asked you to explain what an exacta or trifecta box was right before every race of the day's 12-race program. Or the lady who would bet on a horse to win and thus not be able to collect the money she could have if she made a place or show bet. And she'd complain that she was robbed after every race, despite your numerous explanations. I didn't mind the first or second explanation, but the repetition beyond that grated my nerves.

Anyway, one day I muttered something to a retiree sitting beside me about a customer who had annoyed me in about five or so straight races with the same question. The race had gone off a ndI was always cautious not to complain when customers were around. The other teller was someone I had shared many a laugh with and we had bonded over our similar senses of sarcasm.

"You know, you're too young to be this cynical," he said to me, in complete seriousness.

I was flabbergasted; I skipped a breath. What?, I almost yelled in immediate defiance.

The man's comment pierced through me like nothing anyone had ever said to me before. It was honest. Painfully honest. The brutal directness I so badly needed. And I knew it.

I had no choice but to make a conscious effort to change my attitude. I didn't have a poisonous attitude by any stretch of the imagination, but I was sarcastic, pessimistic, and yeah, cynical.

It hasn't been easy. If anyone enjoys making snide comments or wisecracks, it's me. But there's a time and place for all that. It was at this moment that I realize that the time and place wasn't everywhere and always.

Sure, I'm still pretty sarcastic today, but I think I'm a lot more level-headed. I don't get angry when I see PDA. Now I sorta smile and think about how nice it is when you're in love. If people ask annoying (or repetitive) questions, I now breathe, answer them politely, and move on. If people are participating in something I deem odd, I don't judge as much. Life's too short. Let them be who they are, have fun. Who's to say anything I ever say or do is any less idiotic or embarrassing or worthy of admonishing?

I think as a society, we're too quick to judge. Too ready to complain (OK, I acknowledge I violate this rule continually, but hey, I'm trying to reform!). Always disapproving of others without any real justification.

I say, just try to be more optimistic. Open-minded. Loving. Free to express ourselves without judgment. If you can't be this way everyday, just try to be it some days. Over time, you'll be kinder. You'll go from one day a week of optimism to three. Life is too short to hold all this excessive pent-up anger. You know it is.

And trust me, people pick up on cynicism. Not everyone's going to tell you something you need to fix. I'm so glad that man told me though, because who knows where I'd be without it.

Again, bitterness has a time and a place. And yes, it can be funny. But don't let it be your only funny.

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