“Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” – George Carlin
Cynicism, and being a Cynic, is not what is used to be. It has gone seriously downhill. A Cynic in ancient Greece was someone who aligned with a philosophy which rejected conventional desires for wealth, power, and fame. Early Cynics were committed to a simple life, free from possessions and all that these entail. Not so nowadays.
Cynicism, has become a deeply entrenched attitude of mistrust and possibly downright scorn of other’s motives. It is perhaps one of the biggest blocks to happiness in life and a major block to being able to forgive and find peace of mind. A cynical person believes that they are protecting themselves by their attitude. They are not seeing the other side of the picture, which is the harm they are doing to themselves by their attitude. A cynic is focused on avoiding possible harm by adopting a defensive attitude. Yet, since they see everyone they meet is a potential source of harm they are not aware of the opportunity cost of a cynical attitude. They are not seeing the good they are missing out on because of how others are reacting to their attitude.
Perfectionism and People Skills
Cynicism is a form of perfectionism. The perfectionists wants everything to be ‘just so’, to align with their idea of what is good and right. This can be a good quality if not taken too far. A cynic is a perfectionist when it come to human behaviour and people’s actions and motives. It is good to not be naive about others possibly having hidden intentions, but when this goes too far the person can get cynical on a more or less permanent basis.
A cynical person is living in the darkness of the “unknown”. They are avoiding unknown harm that might come to them; as a trade-off against unknown benefits that might come to them. Being cynical is very different from being skeptical. We can be skeptical of someone’s motives and take due care and be cautious; but being cynical is to prejudge everyone’s motives by assuming the worst – and it usually means having little in the way of close connection with other people.
If we are cynical our whole attitude can cause people to shun us and have little to do with us as possible. The cynic sees themselves as pushing away possible problems; but they are also pushing away possible benefits. Such attitude comes across as resentful and ill-done-by. People of good intent will tend to be driven away.; whereas determined individuals of harmful intent will not. If we get infected by cynicism early in life it can become a deeply embedded way of seeing life that is hard to break out of.
The Price of Judgmentalism
The thing is, once a person starts to become cynical a fundamental change happens in their character. Everything they experience become tainted by that cynical viewpoint. We might not realise that a cynical attitude is a self-fulfilling prophesy, but it is. The more cynical we become the more “evidence” we see that apparently supports that view. We are training and programming our mind to become aware of possibilities of danger, and eventually we can see nothing else. We cannot see opportunities for good things to happen or opportunities to make genuine friendships and so on.
A cynical person is likely to bring out the worst in others and only the worst type of person can stand being around them. Their contemptuous, mocking, sneering, suspicious attitude about everything and everyone soon becomes tiresome and ends up as toxic and unbearable for a normal healthy person. Some cynical people get away with hiding behind a comic facade, but eventually that fades too and they get avoided by most people.
The cynical person tends to notice when others lack concern for them, and judge those people as uncaring. Yet, they often judge those who are genuinely concerned about them with contempt, disgust and possibly hatred. This is because they cannot dare to believe that someone’s motive might be good and genuine. Or, the cynic may go the other way and idolise such a person – but only for a short while.
Cynicism is Reversed Idealism
The reality is, as George Carlin puts it, “Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” In other words the cynic is at war with themselves. They are torn between their ideals and their disappointment. They want to believe in the good, the beautiful and the true; but they have been hurt and disappointed , so many times, that they cannot stand to let it happen again.
They hide behind a wall of negative thoughts and feelings. Yet the irony is that the wall they hide behind is very toxic and very harmful to them. They have probably been too trusting in the past and feel sorely let down in friendships, in love, and life in general. They were too idealistic. They expected too much from people and they expect too much from life. They magnified some good behaviour from someone towards them into something enormous; and then felt terrible when it turns out not nearly as good as they expected. Then they put their idealism into reverse and look only for the bad, the ugly and the untrue. Yet, ironically they measure people against the good, the beautiful and the true to such a level that few – except the very enlightened – would have any hope of reaching.
“The truth is never a stick with which to beat yourself.” – Forgiveness is Power. Neither is the truth a stick with which to beat others. We sully and befoul the truth if we try to turn into a weapon.
A person was kind to a soon-to-be-cynic and they assumed, “This is my perfect angel.” No, they are not an angel; they were just a normal human being who did something kind. Later they may do something not so kind, make some mistakes, or do something ‘selfish’, and the soon-to-be-cynic becomes one for real. Yet the person they are so offended by is just a fragile human being with their own good points and not-so-good points.
The lesson is “don’t expect too much from people, especially ones you don’t know very well”; the lesson is not “expect the worse from people and push them away so you never get to know them at all”. Unfortunately, the latter is what the cynic tends to learn.
As the saying goes, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” If you have become cynical you need to reclaim your idealism and find a useful purpose for it. You need to balance your ideals with practicality. How can your high ideals serve you and others? You need to restore you faith in the goodness of life, by looking at what you appreciate – without it needing to be perfect. You need to be able to see the good in a person with them having to be perfect. You need to see the potential in a situation and also anticipate what can go wrong. Is there is a way to go ahead, mitigating against possible problems, with the best chance that it will work out alright?
How to be Happier
Cynicism is an attempt to take a realistic view, but flavored with far too much salt and no sugar. Can you find ways to trust someone so that no real harm is done to you even if they do let you down? Or, is there a way where you can get closer to others in easy stages and not go overboard too soon? Often the hurt we feel is not the results of what another person did, but our intense hard-bitten feelings of disappointment about what they did. Can you learn to take things less personally and less intensely? This is where forgiveness is a key to how to be happier. (See links on this page).
You can still be skeptical and cautious around people. You can give yourself time to get to know someone properly before you put too much trust in them. Let trust build a step at a time; don’t go rushing into things. Don’t go making harsh judgements about people as you become aware of their quirks and foibles. Are you so perfect that you can judge others so harshly? If so, consider that judging others harshly is itself an imperfection. Being cynical about others enable us to avoid looking at the ways we don’t measure up to our own high standards.
There are people you can trust with your wallet, but not with your sister; and vice versa. Get to know the difference. That takes time and making a point of not idolising anyone. Don’t bother trying to admire anyone for a while; see if you can just like them most of the time. It’s normal to not to like someone part of the time; and like them at other times.
You need to forgive yourself for the times you have trusted others too much, too soon. You need to forgive yourself for when you expected too much based on too little information. You need to forgive people who have let you down and disappointed you. You need to forgive the secret unspoken disappointments from when you thought someone else’s kindness was more than it really was. You need to forgive yourself for the loneliness and isolation you have caused yourself by keeping people at a distance.
To learn how to forgive and let go of cynical attitudes, check out the links to the free ebook, The Four Steps to Forgiveness, on this page. No, it is not an attempt to sell you something. You don’t even need to enter an email address to download the book.
Written by William Fergus Martin, Author: Forgiveness is Power and The Four Steps to Forgiveness.
Four Steps to Forgiveness
Four Steps to Forgiveness
A powerful way to freedom, happiness and success.
William Fergus Martin