noun 1: An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others. 2: A scornfully or jadedly negative comment or act. 3: The beliefs of the ancient Cynics.
It is easy to get cynicism and skepticism confused. In fact, they sometimes get used interchangeably. However, they are not interchangeable. Cynicism is a posture or attitude toward life. Skepticism is an intellectual activity in which one weighs the evidence and says, “I’ve got some doubts.”
I like the following quotes about cynicism. Norman Cousins said “Cynicism is intellectual treason.” Pena Chodron writes that “cynicism is like a pot containing poison… everything is poisoned by its harshness.”
Robert Reich, the famed economist, worked in the administrations of Ford, Carter, and Clinton. He said, “Cynicism is the largest obstacle to social change. Cynicism is dangerous because people throw up their hands and say, ‘Well, it’s not possible; why should I even try?”
Stephen Colbert, late-night host and comic, said, “Young people who purport to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynical. Cynicism is not wisdom. Cynicism is self-imposed blindness.”
This discussion of cynicism is relevant today in the refusal to believe anyone or anything that contradicts one’s prejudices or preferences. Like an extremist who believed that pedophiles were operating in a non-existent basement of a D.C. pizza shop. QAnon was born from this.
The writer of the book of 2 Peter seems to warn against cynicism when he writes that “in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts.”
The antidote to cynicism is a basic intellectual openness and curiosity. Certainly not gullibility, but also not assuming that truth can’t be found or that people are all trying to gaslight you. This antidote may also be called openness, optimism, or approachability.
Cynicism can lead to giving up, abandoning all hope, and acquiescing to dark forces in our world. Like my friends who don’t vote because they think it is pointless.
The point of this? Don’t give up. Don’t give in to fear or resignation.