The Sour Life of the Cynic

My latest column for Our London considers the cynic and why I think it’s a bad thing to become. 

I didn’t arrive at this conclusion on my own. I’ve written about it (in different words, at a different time) in this space long ago. John Stall of 680 News gave me the advice mentioned in this column and it really resonated with me. Obviously!

The Sour Life of the Cynic

I’ve been given some great advice over the years. A few days after I was advised to look both ways for vehicles when crossing a one-way street, I narrowly missed stepping in front of a delivery van going in the wrong direction.

Another piece of life counsel I took to heart was to try not to become a cynic. When my colleague suggested that cynicism was a barrier to seeing things for what they truly were, I realized I’d sometimes made assumptions about peoples’ motives based on what I thought was earned knowledge, but was actually cynicism. It’s important to know the difference.

Cynicism is defined as a sneering disbelief in people’s intentions or motivations. If you doubted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was sincere when he cried as he talked about the death of his friend Gord Downie, you’re a cynic. You’re also a word I can’t write in a family newspaper.

Cynicism raises its head every time a politician does something potentially altruistic. It’s expressed by the cynic as knowing more than anyone else. It’s lobbed in as rare insight when it’s really the low-hanging fruit. Cynics roll their eyes before even hearing the entire story. They learn about one bad apple and forever assume it’s the whole bunch. Cynical liberals criticizing conservatives who cynically analyze them back are part of the reason why we have such a political-viewpoint chasm right now. Both sides are staring into the deep pit between them, never giving each other credit or the benefit of the doubt.

In my experience, people simply aren’t as manipulative as they’re often made out to be. They’re flawed, mistaken and misunderstood, but they don’t tend to conspire on a high level. There are exceptions, of course. But even, as some believe, local politicians showed up to a weekend anti-hate rally at city hall this summer just for the optics, doesn’t it matter more which side they were on? People are generally nice and they like to do nice things. It’s human nature. It’s how the good guys and gals outnumber the bad.

Critics ought to focus on what elected officials do that affects their constituents and dial down the outrage until something really matters. Manufactured negativity isn’t helpful and it says more about the cynic than the target. A return to self-editing would also be good. We used to do it naturally with what we said to people in person, before the Internet allowed us to type to anyone, anywhere, any random thought, no matter its validity or value. Let’s do a little self-test: Do you assume every politician is a selfish rat who’s in it for their own gain? If you answered yes, you’re a cynic, and I feel sorry for you.

Journalists are critics, but they ought not to become cynics. Avoiding cynicism opens up the brain to possibilities. It takes things as they come without prejudging them as something that might not actually be reality. It asks questions rather than giving in to knee-jerk reactions. It gives a little credit once in a while. And it remembers to look both ways when crossing a one-way street.

1 thought on “The Sour Life of the Cynic”

  1. I love this. I used to work with someone who would roll her eyes at the thought of a fundraiser after a disaster. She’d say “it isn’t a disaster unless they’re having a telethon…” but I always looked at it through different lenses: people were actually trying to do something, make a difference and help out. Is it better to just sit there and do nothing at all? I think of her every time there’s an attempt at disaster relief by celebrities and I hope they never stop. If seeing J-Lo on TV makes one person give to Puerto Rico, then what is the harm, really?

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