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The cynic

20 May 2015

I’m not a very nice person. I won’t bore you with a list of all my flaws but at the very least I’m selfish, inattentive, disinterested and impatient*. However, as distasteful as those traits may be, my main character flaw is something far worse: I repeatedly express views that do nothing but to enforce negativity, and encourage destructive behaviour, both in myself and those around me. Yes, it’s true – I’m a cynic.

In the beginning, there was sarcasm

It all started so innocently. A funny remark here, a sarcastic comment there. And more often than not, those remarks were welcomed and appreciated. People were entertained. I seemed vaguely intelligent. It was a win-win.

“No, I mean every word...“

“No, I mean every word…”

But, as time went by, I started to notice something. My view of the world changed, slowly morphing from a sense of optimism and progression to one of pessimism and stasis. It all happened very gradually, so gradually in fact that over the cause of several decades I didn’t even notice the change at all. Until one day I suddenly sat up and realised the world I observed around me was not the world I had grown up in. What I now saw was a depressive dystopian world, ruled by selfish greedy people doing all they could to stop progress and enlightenment.

Realisation

This insight was quite the alarm bell. I was shocked to realise what I’ve become. That didn’t seem like the world I remembered. It’s not who I am. Although no fan of humanity, I still consider most of the people on the planet vaguely good-hearted. Or at least not explicitly evil. Lazy, without a doubt. And stupid, mostly by choice. But somehow still governed by a sense of fairness and empathy.

Empathy.

Empathy.

So, I was faced with the challenge of finding a way back to the core of my personality, to get back to the person I once was. After all, being a cynic is just a hairline distance away from being a pessimist. And we all know what happens to pessimists: they die; ahead of time, unnecessarily and often quite horribly.

Countermeasure

The task was however a daunting one. What to do? How to change such an ingrained pattern of behaviour? And I didn’t want to completely give up on my way to handle the world. After all, I see things. I observe patterns. I think. This has led to rather unflattering views on politics, religion and economics and our society as a whole, that I believe aren’t completely false or inaccurate.

I might need to re-watch Yes man.

I might need to re-watch Yes man.

An there is another side to cynicism. It’s also a sort of self-defense, a first-line fortification against the constant onslaught of horrific news that no one can escape nowadays. Cynicism can therefore be considered a side effect of being overly sensitive, or over-empathic (something I touched upon in the post Compassion). I’m sarcastic, because I feel.

In the end, I decided that the best way forward was to focus on the bright spots. Embrace what seemed positive. A medical breakthrough here. A treaty for a cease-fire there. And try to keep my sarcastic, pessimistic and cynical views to myself if I fail to see a bright side. No more “I told you so” or “what can you expect?”.

The future

Being a cynic is about taking cheap shots. It’s about stating the obvious, emphasising the negative. It’s just intellectually lazy and it will never offer any constructive advice on how to improve things, only try to keep them as they are.

But I must try. I must.

But I must try. I must.

Cynicism has never changed anything. And this world really really need to change. I would rather be part of the solution than one of those by the roadside complaining about how things will never change. Things never will, left to their own devices. We will have to roll up our sleeves and change it for them.

   

* I guess I could also add anti-social to that list, although I don’t really consider it a fault. In my mind, withdrawing from being social is underrated, and I believe being overly social is as much an abnormality as being anti-social. But that’ll most likely another post…

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. 20 May 2015 21:38

    I think there’s nothing wrong with sarcasm (I’ve used it as a defense mechanism since…oh, forever?) as long as it doesn’t start to color the way you look at the world. It’s all well and good to see things practically…but you also have to see the beauty of things. It’s a balance. I know things are pretty terrible (I work at a paper…try not to get jaded reading all the sex molestation stories day after day…) but I think what keeps me sane is the ability to find joy in things. Even really, really silly things or really small things. It’s not really tuning out the bad, more balancing it with the joy.

    (And psst, don’t tell anyone, but you’re part of the joy. Oh, crap. I just told the whole internet, didn’t I? Dammit.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • 20 May 2015 21:52

      Yes. As I mentioned, I can’t block out my sarcastic side. I’ve seen and read too much. The world is a cruel and stupid place. I need my sarcasm and cynicism to be able to handle that.

      But I don’t want my life to be defined by my cynicism either. That makes everything very dark and grey, with no hope of any improvements, ever. That’s not something I want to believe to be true. It’s not the person I want to be. Hence my task of rediscovering my personality and focus more on constructive things than on bad news. I can’t block bad news out, but I don’t need to make a number out of them, compete with a music score and lyrics on how it’s all going to hell in a handbasket.

      (Aww, thanks! Yes, you’re one of life’s bright sides too, you know.)

      Like

  2. 21 May 2015 00:15

    There IS a lot of stupid, sick, depressing, etc. in this world. I see it every day. And, usually (especially, lately) have those very same comments (usually in my head). But. As Amy pointed out, finding the joy and beauty is there as well. It’s finding a balance. And, I find – when I make the effort to seek out the joy and beauty – I’m far less cynical and a lot happier.

    Note to self: Life is stressing you out lately. Seek the joy and beauty. STAT.

    Like

    • 21 May 2015 04:44

      Exactly. That’s the point. But it’s a conscious effort, and it takes some energy and determination to do it. The opposite would be being lazy, and defaulting to sarcastic comments about things. And we don’t want to be lazy, do we? Not in our minds, anyway. That’s dangerous.

      Like

  3. 21 May 2015 21:22

    Andreas, I miss you. I just don’t get the same level of intellect. Not to say that you were a higher intellect, just that I don’t get the same level of intellect. Wait, was that sarcastic? I guess we’ll never know … 😉

    Like

    • 21 May 2015 21:28

      I don’t know and with my new positive outlook on life it doesn’t matter – I choose to interprete it as a compliment. Thank you! And miss you too.

      Like

  4. 12 June 2015 06:41

    May I speak here for Antisthenes and Diogenes, the original cynics? The meaning of the word has been corrupted to mean a personality trait of Diogenes, rather than the actual philosophy. Cynicism was more just voluntarily having no respect for social ambitions, and enjoying life with as little effort as possible (e.g., living in a barrel). The story goes, when Alexander the Great found Diogenes sunning himself on the beach and asked if there was anything he could do for him, Diogenes replied “Yes, stand away from the sun.”

    Like

    • 12 June 2015 18:17

      It’s true that the meaning of the word cynic has changed since the times of ancient Greece, but I wouldn’t call it corruption. It’s more like evolution, where the usage change with the tides of our cultures. We should welcome the change and enjoy the ride.

      I do remember Diogenes and his lamp from my university days, back in the previous century. Didn’t Cynicism give rise to Stoicism, eventually?

      Like

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