I CAN’T tell you exactly when or how it happened, but at some point in my teenage years I became a cynic. How it crept in, I don’t know for sure; I doubt it was one major event. It seems to have crept in gradually through the years, like a dark curse that starts as a benign speck and then spreads undetected, like a sickness, until it completely takes over its host.
And then the world appears just that much darker and less hopeful. Stories once held dear and true fail to hold up to jaded scrutiny and fall to fallacious ruin. Tolerance for emotion, love, wonder, all those things that give one the warm and fuzzies, hits unprecedented lows.
Fellow humans who inexplicably find some measure of joy in something as trite as an internet video of a common house cat are spied upon with a scornful eye. Platitudes become the language of the enemy. The path to righteous indignation is only a mouse-click away, and it feels good to fire ugly shots at every sacred cow one comes across.
Why the need to be so cynical? Because there’s this idea that the world is some pristine thing that needs to be torn down from its ivory tower. A just, fair and peaceful world is one of those stories that many of us are brought up to believe, and for some of us, when we eventually find out that’s not entirely true, we want everyone to know it. We want to expose the lies and cry foul on a world that seems blissfully ignorant of the cruel darkness that surrounds it.
A healthy dose of cynicism can serve as a powerful critique of the world, challenging our perceptions of good and evil and what those little big words actually mean. It can lead to a richer, more nuanced appreciation of what it means to be human and can help us forge deeper connections with the world around us.
An argument can be made that if society is becoming ever more cynical, then we’re less likely to be manipulated by advertisers and filmmakers, politicians and media. We listen with sharper ears and read with smarter eyes, which helps us divide the truth from the propaganda.
But as one gets older and gains a wider experience of the world, comes a realization: we are a world mired in chaos and darkness that tears itself apart every day. Because those destructive things will always come, we have to try to be the kind of world that builds itself up daily.
While I haven’t completely shaken that cynical part of me, I’ve been able to find some use for it. Pointing out problems and analysing them, even if the things we find can disgust and dismay us, has its own rewards. Part of the reward is the knowledge that we’re crawling along towards change, and that the more people we urge to care, the faster that crawl will go.