Keeping Cynicism At Bay

by Randy Murray on August 26, 2010

Many people have difficulty telling a skeptic from a cynic. It’s really very simple.

A skeptic doesn’t believe your story until they’ve seen the evidence.

A cynic doesn’t believe your story because they’ve been lied to before — or because they’ve lied before to you.

It’s very difficult to keep from becoming a hardcore cynic these days. Especially when one is continually assaulted with political speech, hyperbolic marketing, or Fox News.

That’s not to say that cynics can’t be very entertaining. Some of the best comics are full-blown cynics. And among my favorite writers are men and women whom some see as bitter, but who cast a cynical eye at everything. Included in this group are Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce and James Thurber and Dorothy Parker. And if you want a real treat from a cutting edge, gleeful cynic spend some time with Tom Lehrer.

I don’t recommend cynicism as a way of life. I prefer to try and maintain a healthy skepticism and keep up the search for the truth. While a skeptic might tell you that “you can’t get there from here,” the cynic will doubt that there’s even a there, there.

And cynicism can turn to bitterness and general loathing. There’s no easier path to misanthropy than to indulge in the dark pleasures of the cynic.

But it’s hard. The taste is like that of strong coffee and once acquired, just as hard to resist. The world is full of liars, hucksters, and equally cynical politicians. They’ll say or do anything to convince you to follow along quietly.  It’s sometimes easier to become hardened and cynical or to simply ignore it all, rather than to fight against the tide. But I urge you do not let them beat you down.

The more you read of history, follow current political movements, or watch the local news the harder it is to maintain a positive outlook about our fellow humans. A sense of humor is a better weapon than getting lost in overwhelming bitterness. Try and find what’s funny. Watch a Monty Python movie. Pick up one of Twain’s novels. Find a video of Richard Pryor or George Carlin. Or Mort Sahl.

Humor can be your salvation. Even the ancient Greeks knew this. After presenting one of their great tragic plays, they’d show a comedy, a satyr play. One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen was a production of Lysistrata. What can you do in the face of tragedy but laugh?

Stop by the house some day and I’ll sit down at the Baldwin baby grand we can sing along to Poisoning Pigeons In The Park.

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The Keeping Cynicism At Bay by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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