Why cynicism is overrated


“Diogenes of Sinope” by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1873)

Lately I’ve been thinking very hard about where I stand in the world, and I feel like I’m starting to feel disenchanted with the idea of cynicism. In fact, recent events in my life up to this point left my riding on a new wave of optimism. When I eventually came to, I weighed that positive outlook against the previous outlook, for which I had been known in the early college days, and I asked myself, do I really want to be cynical in the years that haven’t happened yet?

I look around me and I find that cynicism has become the hip philosophy for today’s generation of youngsters, but I also realized that being cynical is completely easy. From my experience, it doesn’t require much critical thought at all, and is usually based on the idea that the world is a broken shell of empty promises. It’s a worryingly easy trap for the next generation to fall into, and that sucks because when you’re cynical, whether you describe yourself as that or not, you can very often end up being a pessimist as well if you don’t see anything positive at all. The same thing happened to me a lot when I was still a teenager (and even more so during the beginning of my twenties), and I don’t think it was a very productive outlook.

It’s easy to assume that a cynical outlook is smarter than the more optimistic outlook. The truth is that neither outlook is smarter than the other, but I find that the more cynical outlook does not offer any solutions. It offers a ton of problems but no alternatives of its own. The only useful thing a cynical outlook teaches is to not trust everything with blind faith, but it’s a lesson that’s worth nothing if you end up dismissing everything without thought. Cynicism is nothing without the power to rationally discern what you can and cannot trust, and without rational judgement, cynicism always leads to the kind of jaded negativity that has now become trendy in the age of social media.

It’s also very naive to say that cynicism is about knowing better. After all, almost anyone can be cynical. I’ve found that when you’re cynical, you’re not making the best of the opportunities that can make your life better, and there’s no better example of this than university. I used to be extremely cynical about the idea of going to university because of the alcohol culture, the financial difficulties, and the fact that everyone wanted to go. Now I realize that this cynicism towards university was merely a mask for the fact that I wasn’t ready. Now that I feel I am, I think it’s going to be the best thing that will ever happen to me. Given that I spent three years being cynical about it rather than actually looking into the facts, I’d say that I’ve wasted a huge part of my life that I could have spent making my dreams come true.

The final thing that bothers me about cynicism (or more or less cynics) is the idea that if you think there’s a solution to a problem for which the cynic claims there is none, the cynic will dismiss you as a starry-eyed idealist, and any cynic that agrees that there might be a solution risks losing his or her street cred. That’s ultimately the big problem for me, when I start to think and feel more positively, and actually question how bleak my life really is, the cynical outlook quickly cracks. After all, when did thinking positively suddenly become bullshit?

For me, cynicism is a philosophy that doesn’t stand up to the test of time. If it could, then why do people still hope? Even as the media presents us with a distorted, exaggeratedly gloomy outlook of the world around us, humans still find ways to make the best out of life. As college comes to a close, and I move forward into the next stage of my life, I find myself feeling that an overly negative attitude as prescribed by the cynics will do nothing other than bring me down, and what good will that do if the negative feeling isn’t based on good judgement? All in all, I see cynicism as little more than a trendy philosophy that people inadvertently follow without actually thinking about how bad things really are, or will be in the future, and as long as I’m sure that cynicism doesn’t require a deeper knowledge of the complexities of life and human relationships, then I cannot take it very seriously anymore.


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