Letting go of cynicism

It’s time to get our hands dirty

Image: Austin Ban

I’m continuing to make my way through Krista Tippett’s wonderful book Becoming Wise. I’m now onto the last chapter entitled ‘Hope’ and these words resonated with me when I read them last week:

I’m consciously shedding the assumption that a skeptical point of view is the most intellectually credible. Intellect does not function in opposition to mystery; tolerance is not more pragmatic than love; and cynicism is not more reasonable than hope. Unlike almost every worthwhile thing in life, cynicism is easy. It’s never proven wrong by the corruption or the catastrophe. It’s not generative. It judges things as they are, but does not lift a finger to shift them. (Emphasis mine.)

Maybe I’m wrong, but it feels like cynicism is reaching levels we’ve not experienced before. Whether this cynicism is with politicians, religious leaders, bankers, or simply ‘the establishment’, it seems to be on the rise.

It’s not difficult to understand why. These are people who hold positions of authority or power all while our trust in them has, often justifiably, been eroded to unprecedented levels. And when we don’t have any trust in those who have leadership, cynicism is a natural and understandable response.

And yet it is the worst possible response. I think Krista Tippett has it exactly right: cynicism is the easy response. It demands nothing of us. It can sound wise, but it is a shallow wisdom that does nothing to bring about any meaningful change.

We all enjoy a good moan now and then about the state of politics, or religion, or the world. To a degree, it’s healthy. But if that’s all we ever do, it soon becomes unhealthy. After all, what’s the point in knowing what’s wrong if we never make the effort to try and change anything?

Cynicism allows us to retain a sense of intellectual superiority without having to doing anything about actually changing things. It’s so easy to have an opinion nowadays. With one short tweet the whole world can laugh with us as with cynically mock those who, for better or worse, are trying to do something about making the world a better place.

Our Members of Parliament are hardly deserving of much sympathy in light of things like the expenses scandal, but the truth is the the vast majority of our MPs are there because they want to serve their constituents. We seem to have lost sight of this. We no longer have trust in their motivations so we mock not only their policies when we disagree with them, but also assume the worst about their motives.

Again, some MPs are worthy of this scorn and cynicism. But most aren’t. The same goes for religion and politics. Most of our clergy find the child abuse scandal just as abhorrent as you or I. The vast majority of church leaders are good people, trying to do a good job, serving their community – often at great cost to themselves.

I find myself worrying about a culture where we all have a cynical opinion about everything (much of which, in truth, we know nothing about), while less and less of us are serving in our communities. We have become more and more self-absorbed, consumed with our own lives, all the while not giving a damn about anyone or anything else.

And I challenge myself here as much as anyone reading these words. I write a lot, so I of all people am aware of the dangers of being a man of words but not of action. I want my life to be known for serving others. It may not be in public office, by I want to be someone who is known for have the balls to lift a finger and try and make a difference.

The danger of cynicism is that it allows us to look like we care without actually giving a shit. Isn’t it time we started to resist this deadly plague and start getting our hands dirty?

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