Cynicism has been taken a lot of high-profile hits lately.
Late night talk show host Conan O’Brien, who certainly could have become cynical after the way he was treated by NBC, mentioned cynicism during his final show:
“All I ask of you, especially young people…is one thing. Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”
Now, being a self-proclaimed CityCynic, I feel I have to explain that being cynical doesn’t always just mean becoming jaded. O’Brien was right on with his statement. In life, you don’t always get what you want and reacting to that by thinking that nothing will ever go right is absolutely the wrong way to live.
But being cynical doesn’t necessarily mean you think nothing will ever go right. Cynicism is actually about having a healthy skepticism of certain institutions that society leads you to believe can be trust unconditionally.
“Trust No One.” That was what the poster said on Fox Mulder’s office wall on The X-Files. Now, David Duchovny’s character certainly had valid reasons not to trust anyone and perhaps what he demonstrated was the jaded brand of cynicism Conan O’Brien called out on his final show.
Luckily, most people don’t live a life that would provoke such a severely negative reaction. And even with the entire federal government after him, Mulder still was able to find that “The Truth is Out There” and to say “I Want to Believe.”
And that’s the flipside to cynicism, the idea that while you can’t always believe everything that is presented to you and that doing so might actually endanger your life MUST be balanced by the struggle to discern the truth and the goodness in life from all the distractions that are in the way.
Separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff enables the value of cynicism to emerge. Cynicism can be used as a tool to navigate life. It’s all about how you use it, of course.
American playright Lillian Hellman put it this way:
Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth.
Cynicism is just a way to get at the truth. Many people would rather avoid the truth in certain situations because sometimes it might be easier to just pretend everything is okay even when’s it not. But being oblivious to the truth or ignorant of a situation because you want to avoid it can’t be a healthy way to get through each day.
And lastly, I just want to say that cynicism is not the opposite of optimism. I can see that it may be easy to draw that comparison because a lot of being cynical can often be construed as being negative or pessimistic. That couldn’t be further from the truth in my experience.
I suppose cynicism used improperly can be no better than being pessimistic, however when it is used properly as a tool to navigate through your life, it can help you to hold on to optimism because once you see how things really are, you are able to adapt and thrive.
And isn’t that really what Conan was really getting at? Members of Team Conan would certainly hope their favorite talk show host will see through the nonsense Conan was presented with by NBC so that he can adapt and thrive on another network.
So don’t be negative and jaded, but don’t be ignorant or ignore the truth either. Take the time to investigate life so that you can live a better one.