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Cynicism & Pessimism – A hindrance to the future?

 
Jan_CAN
 
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Jan_CAN
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19 February 2019 09:22
 

Cynicism:  An inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest.  Synonyms:  scepticism, doubt, distrust, mistrust, doubtfulness, suspicion, disbelief, incredulity, unbelief, scoffing.

Pessimism:  A tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen; a lack of hope or confidence in the future.  Synonyms:  defeatism, negative thinking, negativity, expecting the worst, doom and gloom, gloom, gloominess.


It’s easy enough to be cynical or pessimistic, especially as we get older.  Positive changes usually take a long time, often with one step backwards for every two steps forward (e.g. equal rights) and it’s often difficult to see the big picture and recognize that some good stuff has been happening, overall.  And the newer bad stuff (e.g. climate change) appears overwhelming without clear solutions in sight.

It’s also easy enough to lose faith in our fellow humans, especially when those who behave badly get the most press.  And there are those who will try to convince everyone that their faults are everyone’s faults, that they are the only truly honest ones, unable to recognize that there are actually principled and unselfish people out there doing good work.  They’re not capable of being inspired.

Although it is necessary to see the negative in order to make advances, change will not be attempted or achieved without hope.  Even when we feel or think all looks nearly impossible or hopeless, pessimism will only ensure defeat if we do not consciously and purposefully strive to quell it.  As the young will always be the future, they need to be encouraged in their naivety and hopefulness; it seems to me that it is our responsibility to not bring them down to our ‘reality’.  Who knows – maybe they’ll think of new solutions or make progress simply by not seeing obstacles as being insurmountable.

 
 
EN
 
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EN
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19 February 2019 17:15
 

I was young once.  I was idealistic once. Funny.

 
burt
 
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burt
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19 February 2019 17:45
 
EN - 19 February 2019 05:15 PM

I was young once.  I was idealistic once. Funny.

Tequila will help.

 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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21 February 2019 09:03
 

Well not surprisingly, cynical responses so far, sigh.

Jan, I agree with you. My orientation is to get clear on what one values, and then fight for those things.

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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21 February 2019 09:22
 

Reality only seems cynical to the naive.

 
 
icehorse
 
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21 February 2019 09:26
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 21 February 2019 09:22 AM

Reality only seems cynical to the naive.

Sometimes folks are naive. Sometimes folks know they have a mess on their hands and they choose not to be cynical.

 
 
proximacentauri
 
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21 February 2019 09:37
 
Jan_CAN - 19 February 2019 09:22 AM

Cynicism:  An inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest.  Synonyms:  scepticism, doubt, distrust, mistrust, doubtfulness, suspicion, disbelief, incredulity, unbelief, scoffing.

Pessimism:  A tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen; a lack of hope or confidence in the future.  Synonyms:  defeatism, negative thinking, negativity, expecting the worst, doom and gloom, gloom, gloominess.


It’s easy enough to be cynical or pessimistic, especially as we get older.  Positive changes usually take a long time, often with one step backwards for every two steps forward (e.g. equal rights) and it’s often difficult to see the big picture and recognize that some good stuff has been happening, overall.  And the newer bad stuff (e.g. climate change) appears overwhelming without clear solutions in sight.

It’s also easy enough to lose faith in our fellow humans, especially when those who behave badly get the most press.  And there are those who will try to convince everyone that their faults are everyone’s faults, that they are the only truly honest ones, unable to recognize that there are actually principled and unselfish people out there doing good work.  They’re not capable of being inspired.

Although it is necessary to see the negative in order to make advances, change will not be attempted or achieved without hope.  Even when we feel or think all looks nearly impossible or hopeless, pessimism will only ensure defeat if we do not consciously and purposefully strive to quell it.  As the young will always be the future, they need to be encouraged in their naivety and hopefulness; it seems to me that it is our responsibility to not bring them down to our ‘reality’.  Who knows – maybe they’ll think of new solutions or make progress simply by not seeing obstacles as being insurmountable.

If cynicism is simply taking a realistic view of human nature, why is that a bad thing? Wouldn’t you rather would be cynical vs naïve? Realizing of course that human virtue does exist. It’s just infinitely variable among humans.

I’m pessimistic by nature and I admit to being overly pessimistic at times. However, I think some measured pessimism can be a healthy thing as long as it does not lead to defeatism. If a reasoned and objective assessment leads to a pessimistic view, better to see things as they really are than to see things through rose colored glasses.

So, do I think cynicism and pessimism are a hindrance to the future? No, I don’t. And I wouldn’t try to shield our children too much from reality. Perhaps a measured approach that provides them the knowledge of the real world but balancing that with the encouragement that poor outcomes are not inevitable and change for the better can always be acheived as long as we allow the ‘better angels of our nature’ to guide us.

 

 

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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21 February 2019 09:37
 
icehorse - 21 February 2019 09:26 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 21 February 2019 09:22 AM

Reality only seems cynical to the naive.

Sometimes folks are naive. Sometimes folks know they have a mess on their hands and they choose not to be cynical.

Folks who know they have a mess on their hands appear cynical to the naive.

 
 
icehorse
 
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21 February 2019 09:51
 

pc - it seems maybe you’re conflating pessimism with cynicism? It seems like from your paragraph 2 to 3 you made a leap?

asd,

It could just be semantics. My gut is that cynical people tend to be less engaged in looking for solutions. Probably even less engaged than pessimistic people?

Or maybe engagement is orthogonal to both? (I don’t think so, but I could be wrong :o )

 
 
Jan_CAN
 
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21 February 2019 13:20
 

Thanks, Icehorse, ASD and proximacentauri for your comments.  (I’d started to think it was my OP that was hopeless.)

It does often seem that being somewhat cynical or pessimistic is more realistic.  My concern is, as Proximacentauri mentions, “as long as it does not lead to defeatism”.  We have to see things as they are, but in doing so it is easy to fall into a sort of discouragement and a giving up, that there is no point in fighting for a particular change because it will never happen.

As icehorse said, “Sometimes folks know they have a mess on their hands and they choose not to be cynical”.  This is what I’ve been trying to do personally, to resist an increasing tendency towards pessimism about the future.

I also appreciate proximacentauri’s words that, “Perhaps a measured approach that provides them the knowledge of the real world but balancing that with the encouragement that poor outcomes are not inevitable and change for the better can always be achieved as long as we allow the ‘better angels of our nature’ to guide us.

Thanks.

 
 
EN
 
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21 February 2019 17:33
 

I apologize for my cynical response. It’s just difficult staying positive and idealistic when you see so much crap.  I can do things that keep me on an even keel, but I’ll have to leave societal idealism to the young. I’ll stay out of their way.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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21 February 2019 17:44
 
icehorse - 21 February 2019 09:51 AM

asd,

It could just be semantics. My gut is that cynical people tend to be less engaged in looking for solutions. Probably even less engaged than pessimistic people?

Or maybe engagement is orthogonal to both? (I don’t think so, but I could be wrong :o )

Consider the Iran nuclear agreement as a counterexample. The non-cynical, non-pessimistic (naive) person says, “We can trust the Iranians to abide by the terms of the agreement.”

The cynic says, “We can’t trust the Iranians.”

The pessimistic cynic says, “We can’t trust the Iranians so there’s no point in reaching an agreement with them.”

The optimistic cynic says, “We can’t trust the Iranians, but we can include stringent verification requirements to make sure they’re abiding by the agreement.”

 
 
Jan_CAN
 
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21 February 2019 18:53
 
EN - 21 February 2019 05:33 PM

I apologize for my cynical response. It’s just difficult staying positive and idealistic when you see so much crap.  I can do things that keep me on an even keel, but I’ll have to leave societal idealism to the young. I’ll stay out of their way.

Thanks and no problem.
Yes, it is difficult to stay positive and it takes an effort just to keep a balance sometimes.  I often find that I withhold a lot of what I feel and think around the more optimistic (usually young) people I know as I don’t want to discourage them, but there don’t seem to be as many idealistic young people today as there were when I was young.

 

 
 
Jan_CAN
 
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21 February 2019 18:57
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 21 February 2019 05:44 PM

Consider the Iran nuclear agreement as a counterexample. The non-cynical, non-pessimistic (naive) person says, “We can trust the Iranians to abide by the terms of the agreement.”

The cynic says, “We can’t trust the Iranians.”

The pessimistic cynic says, “We can’t trust the Iranians so there’s no point in reaching an agreement with them.”

The optimistic cynic says, “We can’t trust the Iranians, but we can include stringent verification requirements to make sure they’re abiding by the agreement.”

Yes ... it seems that you are saying that there needs to be a balance of enough cynicism/realism to fully appreciate a situation, and enough optimism that prevents giving up all hope and could lead to solutions.

When I was thinking about this topic earlier, my thoughts went to the Parkland students.  In their despair and grief, they wanted to find hope.  They wanted to believe that they could change things and end the violence, and they did what they could.  They weren’t naive because they had already seen and experienced what no one should ever have to, but they were idealistic in that they put aside all that they were up against; I found this very inspiring.

 
 
LadyJane
 
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22 February 2019 09:15
 

It’s a matter of perspective.  And finding the appropriate threshold for what we envision from what we perceive.

I think this mainly relies on knowing and managing our own levels of tolerance.  And living up to the expectations we’re so quick to place on others.  Immersing ourselves in reality provides the foundation for loftier thinking.  And sometimes untethering ourselves from the rules and colouring outside the lines leads to groundbreaking results that can only emerge from straying from the conventional.  When the time we spend is yielding more negative effects than not it’s time to spend time doing something else.  Even temporarily until we can reapproach the project at a later date.  Refreshed.  We can’t very well abandon our human desire to know stuff.

This is just what happens when a multitude of people make their way to the same channel.  The floodgates open and the rushing waters of oppression saturate everything.  As the pressure lessens things settle and we all level up.  It’s a very strange time in history.  And it’s a hell of time to be alive.  There are people who are terrified of losing what they’ve got staring down people who have nothing left to lose.  There’s an overabundance of cortisol and no one knows where to put it.  We now have the task of mustering the patience it takes to navigate the locks that surely shore us back to calm.  Through all the rusty pinions. 

Cynicism is a realistic view of humanity.  Pessimism is nothing short of hilarious.  Looking at it with the right kind of eyes.

 
 
proximacentauri
 
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22 February 2019 09:33
 
Jan_CAN - 21 February 2019 06:57 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 21 February 2019 05:44 PM

Consider the Iran nuclear agreement as a counterexample. The non-cynical, non-pessimistic (naive) person says, “We can trust the Iranians to abide by the terms of the agreement.”

The cynic says, “We can’t trust the Iranians.”

The pessimistic cynic says, “We can’t trust the Iranians so there’s no point in reaching an agreement with them.”

The optimistic cynic says, “We can’t trust the Iranians, but we can include stringent verification requirements to make sure they’re abiding by the agreement.”

Yes ... it seems that you are saying that there needs to be a balance of enough cynicism/realism to fully appreciate a situation, and enough optimism that prevents giving up all hope and could lead to solutions.

When I was thinking about this topic earlier, my thoughts went to the Parkland students.  In their despair and grief, they wanted to find hope.  They wanted to believe that they could change things and end the violence, and they did what they could.  They weren’t naive because they had already seen and experienced what no one should ever have to, but they were idealistic in that they put aside all that they were up against; I found this very inspiring.

The Parkland kids were inspiring to me as well. People tend to discount the courage it took for them to do that.

Jan, I also wanted to say thankyou for starting this thread as it’s given me a nudge to re-evaluate my own personal tendencies. As you said, with age we tend to get more pessimistic and cynical, and I’d like to avoid becoming an old curmudgeon if I can.

 

 
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