It’s time for you to learn the difference between cynicism, pessimism and nihilism.
- Cynicism is an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest. Cynics are often skeptics.
- Pessimism is a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen; there’s a lack of hope or confidence in the future.
- Nihilists believe that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.
Many of my critics ride my ass and say, “It’s easy to be cynical, Laurie.”
Actually, asshole, it is not easy to be cynical. Cynicism requires emotional distance and solid critical thinking skills. It requires a writer to be comfortable with some very uncomfortable truths about human behavior. And it requires me to consider the tension between two opposite worlds: the dreamy world of human achievement and the sad world of limited human potential.
You know what’s easy? Being pessimistic and nihilistic. Both impulses are selfish. Neither perspective requires empathy or an understanding of the complexities of the human condition. Pessimists are always ready for the worst. Nihilists see everything as pointless. Why bother?
And I think it is very easy to be an optimist. You want to feel good and get something through nothing? You want to see the best in everyone and have a fabulous brand experience? People like Jordan Belfort, Bernie Madoff, Jack Abramoff and Ken Lay are examples of men who benefited from of a shortage of cynics in America. And for every Gandhi-like figure on the international stage, there are hundreds of adults who are pulling their kids from the Boy Scouts, right now, and taking pot shots at gay kids in the process.
How lovely. This is why I’m a cynic.
But I also know that people can, from time to time, succeed in amazing ways that defy logic. Members of our military — along with firefighters, cops and other first responders — are paid to put themselves in harm’s way; however, many of them would do that work for free if they could.
And I am always amazed by strangers and first responders who rush into frozen lakes and pull out drowning dogs. That kind of bravery and selflessness is so rare. It makes me want to cry.
Being a cynic ain’t easy, but it ain’t empty or hopeless.
- We are flawed.
- We are selfish.
- We make mistakes.
Life is messy and complicated. In between moments of suffering and pain, much of which we cause ourselves, we might experience joy and happiness.
I don’t take those awesome moments for granted. And neither should you.
That’s what it means to be cynical.