The Danger of Being Cynical

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the danger of being cynical

Webster’s dictionary defines cynicism as “believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest.”

In a recent book study with friends we were discussing a chapter on this very topic. In Paul Miller’s A Praying Life he describes Satan as the first cynic who made Adam and Eve question God’s intentions. Eve did not want to have the wool pulled over her eyes so in a moment of pride- of not wanting to be left out of the inside scoop- she ate of the fruit.

Satan seductively gives Adam and Eve the inside track- here is what is REALLY going on behind closed doors. Such is the deadly intimacy that gossip offers” (p 78).

Because cynicism sees what is ‘really going on’, it feels authentic. That gives cynicism an elite status since authenticity is one of the last remaining public virtues in our culture” (p 78).

The funny person on TV, the one we admire is almost always the cynical character.  I used to love the 80’s sitcom Roseanne. Both Roseanne and her daughter Darlene’s bitingly witty disdain for all things and cynicism delighted me. They were cool. They were funny. They laughed at the naïve.

It’s not just Roseanne. It’s everywhere. Disney and Nickelodeon are rampant with biting sarcasms, cynical children and gullible adults. Sarcasm reigns in virtually all of our popular culture because it is the fruit of cynicism. It is witty language used to convey scorn. Only the innocent are fooled and we laugh at them. Cynical people are clever and hard to fool. We all want to be clever.

My TV example is perhaps the most overt style of cynicism but there are other more subtle forms. It’s what makes us roll our eyes at the neighbor who runs all those bake sales “just to look good”. It’s what makes us scoff when so-and-so receives the Christian character award when we know what “they’re really like”. It can make us suspicious of somebody’s invitation. Cynicism can weaken our faith and not allow us to hope in answered prayer.  Sometimes it’s what makes us afraid to let go of inhibitions and get lost in praise for fear of looking like we allow ourselves to get carried away or of being corny.

At the heart of it, we believe cynicism protects us from being naïve or childlike. But that is the exact opposite of what Jesus invites us to be.

I find that when a negative attitude is THAT infectious and prevalent and admired in our culture there is usually a reason. Satan works overtime to make us all cynical because it is the very opposite attitude of heart that Christ wants for us. Cynicism is the one that will lead us away from Christ.

Matthew 18:3 says “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew18:4-5)

Jesus hates cynicism. It tears us away from a godly heart and leads us away from faith hope and love. Cynicism is a replica of Satan’s attitude- the world’s attitude and not Christ’s.

How can we start healing from this cynicism and foster childlike hearts? We must uproot this weed in our hearts.

  • When you catch yourself- check yourself. Ask yourself what is at the root of your sin.
  • We should take notice when our attitude starts being cynical, shut our mouths and eventually our hearts will follow.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt and when you can’t, pray for them and for yourself. I have a friend who makes reparation for uncharitable thoughts or gossip by doing a kind deed for the person she has judged.
  • Hope in your prayers and trust in God’s love. If you can’t muster the faith to believe in what you pray, do it anyway.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

How much cynicism permeates your attitude? What are practical steps you can take to catch yourself and check yourself?

Copyright 2013 Victoria Garaitonandia Gisondi

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8 Comments

  1. Victoria this is a fantastic post. I don’t tend to be cynical, in fact sometimes I err to far in the opposite direction. But when I am, it feels terrible to my soul immediately. I love your reminder to “check yourself” and to turn to prayer. Great advice!

  2. Victoria, this post really made me think, and perhaps squirm a little, great post, very thought provoking, I will pay more attention.

    Thank you.

  3. Of course, pride and arrogance are often the underpinnings of cynicism. I’m not sure though I would say cynicism sees what is really going on. Rather, it is a distrust-driven exaggeration of what is really going on, misrepresenting the facts for ego and convenience. And I think there is a difference between common sense based discernment and cynicism. For example, if you saw the person who received the Christian Character Award shoplifting and this person happens to be your neighbor who is inviting your daughter to go Christmas shopping, I think a little “righteous scoffing” would be in order. Great article.

  4. Even when I was a young lawyer, I could see the older ones falling into cynicism. It started with methodic doubt, as we are all taught, especially lawyers. Doubt was the first step, the starting point. It led to skepticism, then discouragement, some to despair, and many to denial. Cynicism was almost the end, but eventually even that gave way to degeneration, not to mention debacle. When I tried to pin down what the underlying problem was, I came to see it was the ironic view of life. Lawyers, good — no, clever ones — can argue both sides of any question. As a result they may not find it necessary or desirable to decide any issue for themselves, except for their own self-interest. Gradually, their earlier desires take a back seat to self-interests. They live their lives backwards, backing into the future.

    I watched others and learned from their mistakes and tried not to fall into this way of thinking and living. Your post presents us with sound advice. I applaud your effort and pray others will heed your wise sense of direction.

  5. I think cynicism–or what looks like cynicism at least–is a very complicated issue that I would argue isn’t always sinful. Those of us who have lived through tough things know that being aware of the *possibility* of someone not being who they say they are is NECESSARY. It’s when we pigeon-hole someone in a box, whether that box be one of the perfect Christian housewife or the gossiping drunk, and make assumptions that we get into trouble.

    I think what also gets us into trouble is feeling like we have to ignore someone’s bad traits in order to love them like Jesus did, when really we can’t help heal one another’s wounds if we’re pretending we don’t see them.

    I understand that’s probably not what you mean by cynicism, and you’re referring more to the assumption that someone *must* have ulterior motives, be motivated self-interest, etc.

    I REALLY struggle with cynicism toward conservative Catholicism to be perfectly honest (even though I would describe myself as a very orthodox Catholic) because I’ve witnessed so much hypocrisy from that culture. It’s my personal project this Lent to let go of that bitterness, and, this might be morbid, but one way I’ve found to help is meditating on death (yikes!). But I remember that, at the end, the “hypocrites” will be begging for mercy just like me (because I’m never a hypocrite, hahaha!). We’re all sinners. So why not love one another anyway?
    Granted, this method doesn’t always work. Haha, I’m still figuring out how to let the bitterness go!

    • I ran away to do my Sunday things and thought while out and about that the last part of that comment was more about bitterness than cynicism. Where I made the connection is in seeing that bitterness can be what makes me cynical to a particular people or person in the first place. I assume because others were hypocritical, those that I see now must also be hypocritical, rather than seeing the possibility of their authenticity as well.

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