I want to be a poet. There, I said it.
— A friend from high school, circa 2001
The human is a curious being. Possessed of all knowledge, instantly present everywhere at all times, able to observe everything and communicate with everyone. It is not delighted by this; it is tired. Its voice, once rich and melodic, draws down to a few notes: wry humour, detached observation, and sarcastic rebuke. Its tongue and its cheek, planted together for so long, have finally fused, forming a single tongue-cheek proboscis that it uses to snuffle through its feed for tiny morsels of novelty.
There's a profound coolth to this kind of existence. An invulnerability. To every question, an answer. To every answer, a retort. A game, but not fun. Just something to kill some time. Cow clicker, but for life. Life clicker. Cow lifer? Life cower? Ooh, I like that one. Anyway, it's all good as long as you keep it self-aware. Keep it ｍｅｔａ. The game is forever, and the only way to lose is to die without a wink to the camera.
It feels easy to be jaded sometimes. The difficulty of doing great things is vastly dominated by the difficulty of believing in great things, that you are the person to do them, or that greatness even exists at all. There is such an aggressive innocence in the phrase "I'm doing something great" that only the profoundly egotistical or profoundly naive dare utter it without the appropriate hint of self-aware ambition-shaming.
So what does it mean to be jaded? For a simple word it manages an exceptional density of meaning. It's pessimistic, of course. When someone says they've figured out a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and you bust out a killer here-we-go-again eye-roll, that's pessimism: "bet you havent". Being jaded doesn't mean you have to believe in bad outcomes, but it does mean you can't believe in good ones. In fact, it's probably closest to not believing in anything at all.
This leads into the next ingredient: a sense of weariness, of being tired out. Not because you've worked too hard, but because you've seen too much. Not sleepy so much as used up, worn down and ground out. You can complement this with a kind of opulent boredom: "seen too much" becomes "seen it all", and "worn down" becomes "full up". 57 channels and nothin' on. One way or another, the core idea is that you don't care because the resource that permits caring is exhausted.
But the real spice in the semantic sauce is that, despite being generally negative, jadedness somehow carries a positive connotation of wisdom and experience. The jaded aren't old and bitter, they're grizzled veterans of life! Hear me, youngblood. Let my worldly condescension fall upon ye like the blankie I assume ye still keep for comfort. For I once stood where ye stand, and once thought what ye think. A thousand times a thousand stars have spun and leapt between, and though they aught but advance, O heavens, permit me this moment to escape the great escapement, to wend back upon the wheel that these hands might however fleetingly touch, and in that concurrence release this charge of knowledge: your Arab-Israeli peace idea is bad and dumb.
And that's really the crux of the problem with jadedness. Like so many other heinous beliefs, it manages to graft an undeserved sense of superiority onto a fundamentally limiting and self-sabotaging pattern of behaviour. I mean, obviously, the ideal would be believing helpful things, but if you're going to believe harmful things, at least have the courtesy to feel embarrassed about them.
Aluminium is a good example here. As far as metals go, it's easily one of the most deceptive. It doesn't rust like iron (that over-reactive wimp). In fact, it purports to be basically inert. But if you look closely, it's the complete opposite. Aluminium reacts alright: it reacts so strongly with oxygen that it instantly forms an impenetrable barrier of rust. In essence, it's immune to corrosion because its corrosion is so powerful it doesn't let any more oxygen in.
What a phony! Aluminium pretends to be a super chill metal like gold, which doesn't react with much because it's at peace with the universe. But aluminium's not at peace at all; it's in hiding. The only reason it doesn't react is because it's already reacted so fiercely that it ended up isolating itself from the outside world and, sure, preventing further damage, but also preventing any other interactions, desirable or not. This makes aluminium really difficult to work with and one of the most energy-intensive metals to produce, despite being abundant in nature. That last bit isn't a metaphor, just an aluminium fact I wanted to share.
As for us non-aluminium lifeforms, we are not quite so strongly bound to our corroded outer layers, and I think it's important that we seek to shed them. Jadedness isn't grunge wisdom, it's just comfortable failure: surrender dressed as superiority. If you start every prisoner's dilemma with "just so you know, I'm defecting", all you're doing is trading being a potential sucker for being a guaranteed loser. What about the possibility that things could be better? That seems like a lot to give up.
So what should we be, if not jaded? I spent a good while thinking about what the opposite would look like. Start by leaving behind the drab confines of certain pessimism for the wild frontiers of uncertain optimism. Then accept that caring makes you vulnerable, but care all the same. Finally, abandon the false idol of "wisdom is experience". Experiences only make you better if they make you better. Otherwise they're just stuff that happened.
And what does better mean, then? What's this alternative vision of wisdom that isn't just experience? I think it's the way that those experiences improve or strengthen your self: your sense of who you are, what you want and what you believe.
Imagine you get some shiny new steel girders and you want to use them to strengthen your favourite bridge. One approach would be to hit it with the girders until it toughens up, but this seems unlikely to help. Another option is to attach all the girders to the bridge, but this isn't going to strengthen the bridge, just make it heavier and probably uglier. Instead, you have to improve the structure of the bridge. If the existing structure isn't made of steel, you probably want to replace it. If it's already steel, maybe you can redesign it with these extra girders in mind. If the design is already good, maybe you can use the extra girders to reinforce it slightly. Or maybe not. I mean, nobody said you had to use them all.
Over time, the bridge doesn't just keep getting bigger and louder at parties, or more and more dinged up from repeated girder impacts. Rather, it converges on a structure that works well, changing often at first but more slowly as the right approach becomes more clear. After a while, additional girders become less and less useful, until eventually you reach a kind of equilibrium where you're not, like, avoiding more girders, but it's not clear exactly what you'd do with them because the bridge you have is working great anyway. And that's wisdom! At least, I hope so or I wasted a killer bridge metaphor.
So to roll these things together: optimism, caring, and the open pursuit of the best version of yourself. That's what I think the opposite of jaded is. And the best word I can find for that is sincere.
Having drawn this distinction, it feels quite important to be sincere rather than jaded. Like the me who isn't sincere isn't someone it makes much sense to be. It sometimes feels like we live in a world that is not well-suited to sincerity. But then, perhaps that is exactly what you say when you're still a bit jaded. After all, it's not such a bad world. There are some pretty neat people in it, and some great things to do.