Cynical: (adj) – like or characteristic of a cynic; distrusting or disparaging the motives of others. Showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others. Bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.
The world is a cynical place these days. No one trusts anyone or their motivations. We scoff and belittle things with our terrible attitudes. Cynicism is the new optimism. And if you look at the state of the world it’s not hard to see why cynicism has taken hold. Politicians are saying one thing and doing another, people are failing to live up to the standards that they set for themselves and others, people who have no idea what they’re talking about are given a platform to speak and people listen, the speed of communication is simultaneously bringing us closer together and yet diminishing our social skills, and selfish people continue to prey on those who cannot defend themselves. Our society is full of things of diminishing value. The economy is in the dumpster behind the local Denny’s. Entertainment is nothing but reboots and remakes looking for quick cash. Love is cheap, sex is cheaper, religion is often nothing but a show mixed with fuzzy feelings, we judge others quickly, and yet we are slow to judge ourselves. It’s easy to be cynical in this day and time.
The danger of cynicism is not obvious. It’s not like drinking and jumping in a car, or having sex with 20 different people and never protecting yourself. If you’re honest with yourself before doing something of that nature you can usually have a good idea of how and why it’s dangerous to you. You drink and drive, you could crash and die; if you have lots of unprotected sex with lots of different people, you could get a disease that would follow you for the rest of your life. Those are obvious dangers. But cynicism is different. The danger of it is that it’s self imposed, and self limiting. You are being selfish and closed minded in your cynicism, and we are too selfish and we think too highly of ourselves to realize how dangerous it really can be.
The reason it’s dangerous is because it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our distrust of other people’s motivations only makes us distrustful to other people, and it becomes a cycle of endless suspicion and bitterness. People everywhere in the world are bitter. Bitter at the government for being as messed up as they are, bitter at the economy for making things hard, bitter at their kids for not living up to their expectations, bitter at their spouses for not being what they thought they were, bitter at themselves for settling with things they didn’t want, and bitter at life for being harder than they think it should be. Cynicism is the side effect of life being hard. Sure, there need to be times when you have to be wary of people’s motivations. But living your life in complete distrust and bitterness towards the world is only going to lead you nowhere. You will have no meaningful relationships, no fulfilling experiences, no motivation to do good things in the world, and most dangerous of all, no hope. Cynical people stay cynical because they see only what they expect to see. Cynical people rarely have hope. And that’s the most heartbreaking thing of all. To live your life without hope and trust and the joys that come from those, it’s a horrible way to live. As tough as life can be, as messed up as the world is, for us to be cynical, throw up our hands and give up is the worst response possible. Cynicism gets you nowhere. Bitterness only leads to hate. Distrust means you will never have true intimacy with other people or with God. We cannot let ourselves become a slave to cynicism. Just because life doesn’t turn out exactly the way you wanted doesn’t mean that you just give up and fall into the cycle of bitterness and trust issues. Just because people aren’t as perfect as you wished doesn’t mean that you give up on them and live hoping for a flawless person who will never come. Just because you lost a job and money is tight doesn’t mean you give up and let depression and apathy infect your life. Your attitude is going to dictate what you take away from life.
When I’ve really been honest with myself, it pains me to say that many times in my life my attitudes have been dominated by cynicism. Times where I’ve been distrusting of people’s motivations and the motivations behind their actions. Times where I’ve been distrusting of institutions, of rules and ideas, of decisions and indecision, and of God. I’ve had times where I’ve really questioned why things have happened they way they have in my life, and I’ve felt bitterness for things not being like I wish they were. I’m not perfect. I still struggle with cynicism, bitterness, anger and disappointment when things don’t conform to my view of how I sometimes think the world should work, or wish it would work. It’s a daily struggle to give those things up to God and cling to the hope in his wisdom and his plan. It’s hard to trust and just accept the way things are. But the sooner we realize that cynicism gets us nowhere, the sooner we will be able to live the life abundant that Jesus promised us. He never said that life would be easy and perfect. People are never easy and perfect. Being cynical about the difficulty of life only takes the meaning of the difficulty away. James 2:1 says “Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you meet trails of various kinds”. It’s easy to be cynical. It’s easy to be bitter. It’s easy to be disappointed and angry. Doing the right thing is never easy, but with the help of God, we can do all things. I love what Conan O’Brien said after being forced out of the Tonight Show: