The Marmot and the Cynic

Comments 25
A sleepy marmot.
A sleepy marmot.

A fellow blogger and kindred spirit has a crush on MBTTTR.

Don’t take my word for it.

He wrote a ridiculously kind and flattering post about it yesterday.

Then, ANOTHER blogger friend and I were talking about the challenge of accepting compliments gracefully.

It’s a tricky thing.

  1. No one likes egotism.
  2. Everyone likes humility. (Unless its fake.)
  3. People don’t see themselves as others do. 

Because of my writing here, and the open lines of communication with the outside world, I’ve been absolutely flooded with kindness. With people saying very nice and very flattering things about the words I type here.

My ex-wife wasn’t big on compliments. That wasn’t one of the ways in which she would show support, if being supportive was even on her agenda that day.

Losing my job on Dec. 31, 2009 was the first crushing blow I took as an adult.

Husband, father, unemployed.

For 18 months.

What kind of a man can’t find a job for 18 months?

Maybe I’m not as smart, likable, capable or skilled as I thought I was.

Then, my first crushing death.

What did we do to deserve all this bad stuff? Why is all this happening to us?

Then, my second crushing death. My marriage. On life support. Waiting to be put down. I was screaming at the lifeless comatose vegetable. Pleading for a response. But life had exited stage right before the second act begun.

As David, the author of The Marmot in My Head knows all too well, the end of a relationship is draining.

It saps energy. Happiness. Life. Confidence.

David has been though divorce, too. And then he came out of it. And then more relationships. With their own stories. With their own endings. With their own flavor of heartache.

You mean, I have to be scared of the end of even more relationships? I might have to do this again? More than once?

It’s petrifying.

And I’m messy now. This is all so new. From age 29 to now at 34. So much has changed.

A son. Unemployment. A career change. Death. A divorce.

I still barely recognize myself sometimes.

And now there’s this new me.

This digital me. This collection of words and sentences and random thoughts spewed onto the screen.

In some ways, it’s more me than the guy everyone knows in real life. Because I tell you things that stay behind the mask at the masquerade party that is my life.

And in other ways, this isn’t like the real me.

Because in this place, I am bombarded with positivity. With kindness. With appreciation. With encouragement.

Some of you even think I know what I’m doing. That I’m not just some scared, insecure guy embarrassed about my life circumstances and wishing I wasn’t spending so much time alone.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m, quite literally, making all this up as a go along.

Just hoping it will matter to enough people so that something good can come from it. For you. For me. For the people we know in our real lives.

But then something nice happens. Something really nice.

Someone reaches out to you privately, and you make a connection, and you grow and encourage one another.

WordPress editors decide what you’re doing matters, and they give you a nice attaboy.

A fellow writer and all-around perfectly flawed, kind, smart and well-intentioned human being and kindred spirit takes a moment to be kind.

I appreciate so much all of the kindness being sent my way.

I appreciate so much all of the compliments offered.

And I apologize, sincerely, if my self-deprecating nature has left any of you feeling like your niceties were falling on unappreciative, deaf ears.

They were not.

Yesterday was an absolutely wonderful day because of a bunch of people I’ve never even met before.

Thank you.

The Cynical Philanthropist

Actually, I can’t be sure he’s a philanthropist at all.

The only thing I do know is that I’m more sensitive than I should be about what people think of me.

And yesterday evening, I got my most-negative comment to date.

It made me sad. Legitimately sad for maybe 20 minutes.

But then a bunch of new commenters said a bunch of new nice things and all the ugly went away.

I wrote a post not long ago called, uncreatively, Pay it Forward, which told the story of a stranger paying for my lunch at a drive-thru window, prompting me to write about generosity and random acts of kindness.

Within the post, I wrote something that I thought was one of the more-important things I’ve ever written on this blog.

I wrote: “Cynicism never made much sense to me. Because every cynic in the world could prove themselves wrong simply by displaying unconditional generosity just one time.”

I’m right about that.

Each cynic is one unselfishly kind act away from delegitimizing their entire way of life.

The cynical commenter suggested that drive-thru charity is bullshit.

He wrote this: “Drive-though kindness is very misguided. People who are rich enough to own a car, too lazy to cook their own food, and too lazy to even get out of that car don’t need or deserve anyone’s help.

“If you want to really help people then find some poor, starving, desperate and maybe even homeless person who is really suffering and help that person.”

Really? That’s the key takeaway?, I thought.

I replied: “A cynic! How fun!

“Kindness discrimination? Based on relative wealth? Some young mother of three with a terminally ill father, an unexpected automotive bill to keep her car running and the stress of living in a brand new city with no friends doesn’t deserve the pick-me-up of a random act of kindness?

“Or worse… You want to tell people motivated to perform such an act that their generosity is bullshit? Unworthy? Not good enough? Because someone else gave more to some other thing?

“Sorry, sir. Can’t co-sign.

“Everyone deserves kindness. Everyone deserves lifted up. Everyone, regardless of means, can benefit from love.”

I drive a pretty nice car. My house is far from extravagant, but compared to homeless people and those living in impoverished or third-world conditions, it’s the Taj Mahal. Especially for a guy living alone half the time. I hardly have any extra cash laying around, but I’m paid pretty respectable wages. Well above the median household income in my area.

But, you know what?

I’m kind of a mess. My life has never, ever been worse.

I’m frequently sad. Frequently lonely. Frequently wondering if, when, and how this will ever change.

But then it happens.

A random act of kindness.

A sweet note from a stranger.

An encouraging text message from an old friend.

A hug from my son.

An unbelievably kind and flattering gesture from a fellow writer.

And then, for a moment…


The world is right.

A little less ugly.

A little more beautiful.

Cynicism is a scourge on humanity.

And kindness is the weapon of choice to combat it.

Join the fight.

A Great Marmot-Related Moment in Cinematic History

Right around the 40-second mark.


25 thoughts on “The Marmot and the Cynic”

  1. Not like, love:)

    Beautifully written and oh-so-true. When you’ve been through s**t, it is so easy to become cynical. It’s an armor that keeps you safe. For when you assume that everything is bad and everyone’s motivations are self-serving, you will never be disappointed. But you’ll also never be happy.

    It’s weird, but I think blogging helped me find love again. Not directly, but it taught me the value of being vulnerable. First with a world filled with strangers and then with one person that means the world to me.

    1. I hope you have even a fraction of a clue as to how much I appreciate you.

      I want to always be hopeful. And positive. Not annoyingly so, like the people who are a little too happy to be at work on Monday morning.

      But I really want to give myself a chance at happiness. And I believe turning cold is a sure-fire way to never achieve it.

  2. Being raised in tenements in an poor section of an inner-city.. I learned.. and never forgotten.. one very valuable lesson of life…
    “One man’s floor is another man’s ceiling.”
    Stay well.. God Bless..

  3. People have a hard time understanding the power of kindness. I’ve seen stories like yours blasted time and time again because it wasn’t enough. Bhah…What people don’t realize is that one small seemingly insignificant act of kindness can have a ripple effect that can touch so many people.

    1. Thank you. Exactly.

      I’m dealing in extreme hypotheticals here… but, what if someone was having the worst day of their life? Contemplating doing something bad to themselves. And then something random, kind, and moving happened to them? And it moved them to change their mind, to get them out of the funk. And then a bunch of people got to keep their mother or their father or their sibling or their child or their friend.

      What if, instead of helping one starving or desperate or homeless person (all VERY important things we should absolutely be doing), we “helped” a very wealthy person?

      And then that wealthy person went on to help thousands and thousands of people in need?

      To start judging the worthiness of a kind act seems really counterproductive to me.

      Just be kind all the time. To everyone. No matter what. It’s impossible. We won’t do it. But it’s a worthy effort.

      And a lot of good can come from it.

      Thanks for noticing. And thanks for the note.

      1. You just never know what impact you can have on someone by giving something as small as a smile. It’s not impossible to be kind to everyone…

  4. I continued to be inspired by your writing, and your commitment to it. But I’ve held off commenting for several days. There is no “happily ever after.” And every third blogger seems to be seeking it. WordPress, the island of misfit toys.

    Am I cynical? I’m no scourge. A cynic is “an idealist whose rose-colored glasses have been removed, snapped in two and stomped into the ground, immediately improving his vision.” — Rick Bayan,

    And drive through charity IS bullshit. On the once or twice a year I end up driving through a Starbucks for oatmeal, there is NO WAY I’m gonna pay for a random triple mocha latte because some douchette is too busy doing her makeup while on her Iphone making her follow-up boob job appointment to get out of her pimped out Yukon Denali.

    Have an amazing day! 🙂

    1. Instigator.

      I know you don’t really mean that. I mean, of course you mean the part about the douchette on her way to her second boob job. I would, admittedly, not buy her coffee.

      But I also know you don’t believe small contributions to making life better are wasted energy.

  5. No, I am nice to everybody. Because I’m terrified of karma.

    But there is too much word play on the whole “happy” thing here. “I’ll be happy when…” “when you assume everyone’s motivations are self-serving, you’ll never be happy.”

    Everyone’s motivations ARE self serving! No one reaches out without ulterior motives. Are you kidding me? There is NO happy! Grow up, folks! That’s what I was focusing on. I started to write that in your comment section the other day, and then censored myself. Fuck that noise. Just pay your bills, make sure your kids are safe, call it a day.

    1. “Happy” is a just a word.

      It’s just semantics.

      Happy IS bullshit.

      I think what we all seek is the peace and “happiness” we felt as children. Before all the bad shit starts piling up and poisoning us as adults.

      And I see it as my job to help people I care about rediscover it.

      And I see it as my job to help people capable of helping others to do so.

      And maybe we won’t succeed. Maybe no one can feel “happy” all the time. Maybe it’s a pipedream. An illusion. A myth.

      But if you do things the right way? With kindness. With unselfishness.

      You’ll at least get to taste it a lot, even if it’s fleeting.

      Life can never be one, big party.

      But I think it wise to really enjoy the parties when we’re fortunate enough to attend them.

      To seize the moment. And then look forward to the next one.

      With hope. Always with hope.

      I will choose that everyday, forever. And I’m going to ask everyone else to do the same.

      1. Point taken. that what we can hope for are the small moments of “happy.” And for me, they do just fine.

        Fleeting moments. The smell of my son’s head when he was a baby. A perfect beach sunset. A leg workout that makes me wanna yak. The guitar solo at the end of “Hotel California.” A troubled student having an “Aha!’ moment. A flawless Warrior Three. A homemade birthday cake that looks like I bought it from a bakery.

        This: My 10 year old, telling his father, “No, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam and Nirvana are NOT all the same. If it wasn’t for Nirvana, those other bands wouldn’t even EXIST!” And us fist bumping over him schooling his musically challenged father on Seattle grunge.

        Yes. Let there be light. namaste.

  6. I know once or twice we have disagreed on your blog- about one subject in particular (and, I would just like to say now because I found myself thinking about your doppelganger the other day again,) is that I hope he and his family are doing OK- and I mean that! Sometimes I come away from your blog realizing what a long way I have to go in the enlightenment department.- which is a good thing, actually. I really don’t think of myself as a cynic, just a realist.

    However, I think it can never be a bad thing to be generous, even if it is for something as trivial as a Starbucks order- so just go with it! I say. =)
    And also, I know it is impossible not to assume things about and judge people unless you’re the Dalai Lama etc, but so very important to keep at least keep an open mind that we don’t know the whole story about them as you so rightly said.(Even, EVEN the douchette =)) I see this all the time in the healthcare field. Healthcare workers are always bitching about people they think are drug seekers, or overly needy complainers etc. Not that those people aren’t out there, but disheartening to think someone in real pain is being discounted. Every single one of is a hungry soul in some kind of pain.

    Best movie ever to illustrate your point: Crash

    Write on, Matt!

    1. I’m really not trying to come off like some wannabe Tony Robbins. Or Barney that suckface kids’ dinosaur guy.

      Anyone who thinks that doesn’t know me at all.

      But I’ve felt both ends of the human experience now.

      I’ve felt what it’s like to have it good. All those years being a little messed up because I didn’t have my father around, getting free charity lunches in grade school and being one of the poorest kids in my social circle. Those were the happy years. And I’m not playing victim here.

      Those years were AMAZING. My extended family is awesome. My friends are more important to me than they can possibly realize, even the ones I’ve lost touch with, because of their lasting impact on an only child in need of human connection.

      I’ve always been… “happy.”

      Right up until I lost that job, things turned to shit, people died, and my marriage went bust.

      And now I’m not. Now I’m not “happy” anymore.

      It sucks ass. I’m jealous of every couple I see, ever. I’m sad every day when I come home to my house alone.

      I’m disappointed in how my life has turned out.

      There’s really no other way to say it: I’ve failed.

      And now I’m eating the pile of shit that comes along with failing.

      And now I have to pick myself back up again, hit the reset button, and try something new.

      THIS time, it’s gotta be less about me, and more about others.

      This time, I can’t always be asking what’s in it for me, me, me, me, me.

      I must find a way to enrich other people’s lives. To do something that has even the slightest bit of significance and meaning.

      Even if it’s just to one person. One, lonely soul who appreciates that he or she isn’t the only person out there feeling exactly this same way.

      And maybe they heal because of it.

      And then I’ll have mattered. And then I’ll have contributed. I’ll have left a positive mark.

      I don’t understand why people wouldn’t embrace that idea. To want to be part of it.

      But not everyone does.

      And I’ll choose to eliminate them from my life, in one act of selfishness I’m not likely to give up.

      Because I don’t have time to invest in things that make me feel bad.

      And no one else should have time for that, either.

      1. Well, I’ve certainly never thought of you as an annoying purple dinosaur or self-help guru. I just think of you as brutally honest Matt who has a talent for brilliantly putting into words things I’ve thought but could barely put into a coherent sentence. Sometimes your blog makes me feel uncomfortable or question myself. And even if I don’t always agree with you, I often find myself mulling over something you’ve written. That, to me, is proof enough that you have already influenced one person. And obviously I’m just one of many who find your blog meaningful and inspiring. And who’s to say that months down the road, the cynic won’t remember something you’ve written and feel differently? You never know what impact your words may ultimately have, and on whom.

  7. Yeah, giving to someone who doesn’t appear to need it might be a waste, but the right criteria, for me at least, is to give to someone who will make something better out of it. If the desperate hungry homeless person wastes a gift (most won’t, I would guess) and the has-it-all goes and does something better elsewhere, where should the gift go?

    Yeah, I said nice things about you. Yeah, you deserved it. Then you had to go and make something bigger/better out of it. Now, you deserve more good stuff. Take that!

    Oh, and stop putting ferrets in my bathtub! I’m not currently into furry strangers investigating my junk. 🙂

  8. I hear ya. Standing ovation on this post. I woke up on the day of my sister’s wedding and didn’t even recognize myself. I was suddenly divorced, living in a new state, and unemployed. I then journeyed (stumbled) through the next 6 months in awe and shock of who I was and who I no longer was. Isn’t wordpress a wonderful platform upon which to figure ourselves out? The fun part is when people join us for the journey! 🙂 Hang in there.

    1. Yes.

      Next to really obvious things like my son, and my family and friends, this has become very important to me in four short months.

      This process of sharing ideas, reading great stories, and connecting with new people has been a Godsend for me during my toughest days.

      I feel really fortunate to have a place to write down the things I’m thinking about and actually have people pay attention, and occasionally, care.

      I’ve found purpose here. I’m extraordinarily grateful for it. As I am for your note and you taking the time to read.

      Thank you. Have a great weekend, please.

  9. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one with a blog crush on MBTTTR. <3

    I've read this post 3 times today. I can relate to so much of this. I'd like to comment, intelligently. But I can't today.

    I am glad to have read it, though.

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Matt Fray

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