It’s Tough Not to be Cynical

I’ve been thinking about Cynicism lately. Sometimes it seems like there’s just so much of it out there, as if the collective expectations on humanity have plummeted so much that we just aren’t shocked or surprised anymore when people do wrong to one another.  Even in the little things…especially in the little things. This might be true – an accurate observation. Then, quite probably I’m projecting much of my own cynicism into the mix. It’s one of my many character flaws.  You see, I have the misfortune of habit of looking at the world around me and not seeing it so much for what it is, but for what it could be. If you’ve never done this trust me, it’s a dangerous proposition. It challenges you to find the goodness in people. At the same time it makes that same job all the more difficult. And when you fail in this endeavor the cynicism starts to creep in. And after it’s settled in well enough you develop a different view of things, where the expectations on people are well below what they probably should be because to hope for more would only lead to perpetual disappointment, and ultimately a very sad view of the world around you.

Have you ever found yourself wondering why there’s so much unhappiness in the world? I think it’s actually contagious, which if this is true might partially explain the epidemic. Is it possible to have an epidemic of unhappiness? I think so. But what does that mean really. Clearly it isn’t possible for everyone to go about being peppy and joyful all the time. After all, there’s a lot of serious business to attend to. But that’s not what this is about. Look around; pay attention next time you’re out and about. It’s something deeper than this. Maybe it’s just my sphere of existence; maybe I’m misreading things. I don’t think so.

But if all this is true, if the world really has become deeply cynical and unhappy…what do you do with that? How do you respond to it? Do you join the club, let it overtake you? Kind of hard not to if you’re paying any attention. Much easier to lower your expectations. Write it off and tell yourself things like, ‘That’s just the way it is’ or ‘Things are never gonna change’ or ‘It’s normal for young people to behave that way’ or ‘This is just the way I am.’ Hmm…Well if you’ve read this far then you may be thinking that this is all very depressing (or you disagree and think things aren’t nearly so bad). Aren’t they? Could they be better? Couldn’t they be much better? Remember, I’m not talking about the big stuff, like genocide, totalitarianism, widespread denial of basic Human Rights (those are topics for another day). I’m just talking about the basic way things are nowadays – the way people treat one another, how we talk to one another (or deliberately ignore one another), the kinds of public behaviors we deem acceptable now, the kinds of things that qualify as ‘funny,’ how we treat the elderly, how we treat our women, how young men treat young women. Looking around and paying attention to these things can really make it tough not to get cynical. Because they really could be better. Probably they could be a lot better.

But maybe the real trick is figuring out what to do with it. Instead of getting cynical about it; or worse, joining in and adding to the misery, what if there’s another way. Not a big sweeping ‘Let’s change the world’ kind of way but something much smaller and more personal. I wonder if it’s possible to be able to look at the state of things, feel sadness about it but choose not to let it drag you down. Is this possible? I think so. I hope so. In fact, I bet you there’s someone out there right now who already has this down pat. Maybe it’s because they’re more optimistic than you or I, maybe they just have a lot more faith in humanity, or maybe they just have a gift of loving and caring about people with little regard for the other person’s merit. It isn’t one of my natural gifts to be sure. But I’ve seen these people – even had the fortune of bumping into them from time to time. And it reminds me that this whole cynicism thing doesn’t have to overwhelm a person after all, that there’s a choice in there somewhere.

Even for those of us who aren’t blessed with the gift of always seeing the good in people maybe there’s another way. Maybe we can make a choice, a simple choice to remember that even if things seem so far from where they could be to remind ourselves that we don’t have to let it consume us. To not let it dictate our behavior toward others. Maybe it’s possible to cautiously (with good judgment) give more people the benefit of the doubt – instead of assuming upfront that everyone is selfish, or has an ulterior motive. Not easy, even less so for some of us. But I think probably this is doable. It’s a small, simple, conscious choice that probably presents itself to most of us every day of our lives. And you know what. Even if we only managed to pull it off half the time I bet we’d be doing ourselves and everyone around us a favor. To see things for what they are, but to not add to the bad stuff, and to not let the overabundance of bad stuff drag you into depression and despair…
…now there’s something to work toward.

And to those who do this naturally, who probably can’t even explain why or how they have so much love and compassion toward others…you are a true blessing in this world. I know you’re out there even if you are rare and rarely appreciated. I’d like to say, Thank you for simply being you.

Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 10:17 am  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m affraid that in the last recent months I’ve become cynical towards humanity. It IS tough not to be cynical when you pay attention to the details. Like the way we treat each other, and also how we treat the Earth that we depend on to survive. But after reading this article I feel empowered to try and not let the cynicism dictate my behaviour towards others anymore. I never even realized that I was adding to the misery by thinking this way. I thought it was others who needed to change, but I realize now that it’s from within myself that needs to change. I need to accept the situation and not let it drag me down. From now on I will make a concsious effort to give others the benefit of the doubt.

    Thank you for helping me realize I have a choice in the matter.

  2. Wow, great post. I found this by searching randomly about cynicism. I, unfortunately, lost my cool today with a customer service rep at a car dealership due to my underlying cynicism…

    I have found that people who seem to be eternally positive and loving are, in some cases, incredibly sad and cynical inside and just keeping it to themselves. I am not sure which is healthier. Expression or repression.

  3. I also came across this post by searching cynicism. I think you are a great inspiration to all trying to keep their heads above the surface. It’s all too easy to be pulled under these days. Bravo, I will be coming your site for as long as you write.

  4. I used to be the nicest guy around, always trusted people, and then….well I can’t really remember one outstanding circumstance so it would be safe to assume that my cynicism is due to a great deal of small things I never let go. Your post helped give me an objective view of my behavior. Thank you. I too felt alone and that everyone needed to change. Perhaps we do, but might as well start with our own selves.

  5. Great post (that I found randomly too). This topic is back in my head after Conan O’Brian’s tonight show close (his last episode) where he quite passionately told people not to be cynical.

    I find it difficult not to be cynical but understand that cynicism is a dead-end. While we can’t always be happy (nor should we), we should be hopeful, and cynicism destroys hope.

  6. “The good is gone, and we are left with nothing but men tattooing themselves for the sake of their masculinity, women demeaning themselves by allowing their morals to fly away, and children thinking highly of the monsters who have demolished the world upon [which] we breathe. To prove that righteous human beings are still in existence is a controversial point to make. Every day we kill. Every day we waste. Each day we hurt the ones we love, hoping that karma, as cliche as that may be, doesn’t return to harm us. We are the beggars.”

    I wrote this hours before reading this article. I knew deep down that I am my only hope to how I perceive the world around me, but I felt alone with that. This article has helped me realize that I am not.

    Thank you

  7. I truly believe that im one of the ppl you see as a positive person – all i ever hear is how awesome i am and how i make ppl’s time so easy to fill, and a more direct quote ” I dont see how anyone could be in a bad mood around you”. The truth is i see the world like you. I suppose im not done fighting it with others to make my world like the way you see the positive ppl of whom i assume others see me as. I am SO cynical at heart lately and i couldn’t put a word on it – feels like depression but its different – its like a “knowing” vs. feeling like things are shit. Something i can say is, ever smile is asking for one. its a golden rule for me. and i remember to treat ppl how i want to be treated. Both rules that i think ever person should remember even if our lives realized to be dammed by realizing how shitty of a world we live in.

    And to to your last paragraph – Thank you too!

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