Overcoming Cynicism

How to be a skeptic without becoming a cynic.

The two go together in most people’s mind. People who are skeptics are often seen as annoyingly cynical.  No good news can be delivered without the cynic/skeptic throwing a big pile of doubt into the mix, ruining the good feelings of everyone.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  Doubt is a wonderful thing. Don’t get me wrong. Doubting helps ensure you find out whether what you think you know is really so. Good skeptics work very hard at figuring out what is true and what is false.  We don’t do this because we are cynics. We do this because we are optimistic we can figure out what is fact and what is fiction. In this way, doubt and skepticism are very optimistic activities.

But doing doubt well takes skill.  It takes hard work.  This is why its way easier to be a cynic.  A cynic doubts and distrusts everything. They get to appear intelligent and smart, but they are taking a shortcut by doubting everything. What they need to learn to do is to doubt their doubt.  Because while everything may not be coming up roses, that doesn't mean that everything is going to hell in a hand basket either.  As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between.

The thing I get the impression most people are cynical about is other people. At least, that’s what’s expressed to me the most. People don’t trust other people and so when I tell them they can fix a lot of their interpersonal conflicts by being compassionate with other people, they are skeptical. But really, the problem is that they are cynical. They just don’t think that other people can be trusted. Or, they are afraid of other people. Either way, they aren't willing to risk extending themselves in compassion to others. 

And that’s a shame, because most people are good people. They are nice and you actually can trust them. The fact that there are jerks among us who you can’t trust doesn't mean that everyone can’t be trusted. That’s a cynic’s shortcut to avoid having to think. Most people can be trusted and there are plenty of studies that back that up (Here’s one for example: http://www.wallettest.com/Lost_Wallet_Test/Results_Page.html)

So instead of being cynical, why not be skeptical of your “reasons” for being cynical. Why not give the other person the benefit of the doubt and see whether they are among the majority who can be trusted instead of assuming they can’t be trusted just because of you are afraid. (Though clearly, according to that study – you do need to watch your wallet around young men – once they grow up though – they become as honest as the rest of us).

Anyway – if the stats don’t convince you to trust your fellow humans and give them the benefit of the doubt, consider this. How do you want to be treated? Do you want to be given the benefit of the doubt? I know I do.  So step outside your comfort zone and take a chance on your fellow humans. After all, isn't that what being a Humanist is all about?

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