Cynics. We’ve all encountered them. They make pronouncements with great certainty and take pride in not appearing foolish. Those who disagree with them are instantly branded, in the eyes of the cynic, as naïve.
Thankfully, there are ways to combat cynicism. Over the holidays I finished reading author Rebecca Solnit’s most recent book, Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays). Solnit includes an essay—Naive Cynicism—that flips the idea of cynicism and naivete on its head.
“Naïve cynics shoot down possibilities, including the possibility of exploring the full complexity of any situation. They take aim at the less cynical, so that cynicism becomes a defensive posture and an avoidance of dissent. They recruit through brutality. If you set purity and perfection as your goals, you have an almost foolproof system according to which everything will necessarily fall short. . . . Cynics are often disappointed idealists and upholders of unrealistic standards. They are uncomfortable with victories, because victories are almost always temporary, incomplete, and compromised.”
Change and progress require hard work, and cynics often want to avoid the responsibility of that work. They have a “relentless pursuit of certainty and clarity in a world which generally offers neither.” Change and progress also require hope, and as I’ve written before, “hope demands things that despair does not.” Hope is risky. But hope is also in love with success.
When you hear news that affects you, what is your first reaction? Does your mind move to cynical inevitabilities, or to hopeful possibilities? Do you act upon “bad data and worse analysis” to reach your conclusion? As Solnit says in her book The Faraway Nearby, “Difficulty is always a school, though learning is optional.” Life isn’t easy, but as Stephen Covey has written, we have the ability and freedom as humans to respond. “External forces act as stimuli that we respond to. Between the stimulus and the response is your greatest power — you have the freedom to choose your response.”
“It is the nature of reactive people to absolve themselves of responsibility,” says Covey. However, “proactive people work on the things they can do something about.” In the same vein Robert Glazer speaks of improving our emotional capacity. “Emotional capacity relates to how we react to challenging situations and people as well as the quality of our relationships, which can either increase our energy or deplete it. The process of improving emotional capacity is challenging. It requires learning to actively manage your feelings and accepting a certain amount of uncertainty and unpredictability from both individuals and circumstances.”
In times of uncertainty or difficulty, think about your response and consider choosing the proactive option of learning. Of possibilities. Of hope.
Have a good week.
More to come…