“Cynicism is a self-imposed blindness. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it.
Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge.”
Vision. Viewpoint. Perspective. Foresight. Hindsight. I’m curious about the concept of “seeing” as a metaphor for wisdom. Did you know that, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “wise” originally meant “to see?”
I’m also fascinated by how we see our experiences in the world, how we make decisions and apply what we learn to our lives.
When you and I look at something, are we really seeing the same thing? Is my “green” exactly the same as yours? How do we compare and communicate what we see? We all have our “blind spots.”
If you’ve ever been with other people while looking at one of those optical illusions, you know how exasperating it can be to help them to see the “other” image. “Well, if you squint your eyes, hold it a little further away and tilt your head–NOW do you see it?
Our culture wants us to believe that there’s only one thing that can be seen. If we see something else, well, we’re nuts. Or naive. Or stupid. Society tells us, “This is a vase. If you think you see something else, you’re wrong!”
However, there IS more than one reality in these optical illusions. So it is in life. Different people see different things, and often we have habitual ways of seeing. And therein lies the difference between cynics and skeptics.
According to The American Heritage Dictionary, a cynic is (1) “a person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness,” and (2) “a person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative.”
I see cynicism as a bad habit, a “blind spot.” Many cynics claim to be realists. Yet, as seen above, what, really, IS reality? A cynic is a disappointed dreamer who sees his or her past experience as a rancorous prelude to future reality. Stuck in their ruts, cynics often resist change, and they are not open to other possibilities.
Perhaps the saddest thing about cynics is that they consciously or unconsciously bring other people down. Cynicism and negativity have a profound effect on morale, It only serves to attract more negativity and negative people. Positive people do not remain in the orbit of cynics.
When I’m confronted by negative, cynical people, I take a step back, because it actually causes me physical pain. I might ask them: “What do you believe in? What are you passionate about? What would you do differently?” But it’s usually an exercise in futility that ends up with the cynic being rendered dumbstruck or redoubling his efforts to convince me how lousy human beings are. It’s all about focus.
Maya Angelou wrote, “There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.” Here, Angelou implies that cynics see the worst in any situation and lack faith or trust in things turning around. Cynicism is the next-door neighbor of hopelessness.
Many people lump skeptics in with cynics, and there is a fine line that separates skepticism from cynicism. “Skeptic” comes from the Latin scepticus, and from the Greek skeptikos for thoughtful, as well as from skeptesthai to look, consider. In modern usage, a skeptic is defined as “a person who questions whether any truth or fact can be established on philosophical grounds; sometimes, a critical inquirer, in opposition to a dogmatist.”
Zen Buddhism is a practice that encourages skepticism. Skeptics question, challenge and probe. They wrestle with big questions. They engage and connect with others and with life. And while a skeptic may not know the answer(s) at any given moment, he or she acknowledges that it might be outside the scope of their experience. If nothing else, skeptics are open to the possibility that they might learn something and move to a new place of understanding.
So, how do you approach life? As you seek to understand your life and accomplish what you want, are you a cynic or as a skeptic?