“Cynicism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means it hurts to care. Apathy is a real problem, because it means they’ve stopped caring altogether.” – Stan Slap, Company Culture Consultant
People don’t become cynical or apathetic on their own. Circumstances, outcomes, and an overall gray-sky/can’t-win atmosphere over time causes the effects, symptoms, and malady.
Stan is right; it really can hurt to care. Cynical people have a higher risk of strokes and heart problems. It can have deleterious effects on our metabolic, hormonal, and immune systems as well as sleep cycle.
But … like most harmfully labeled things in the world, it’s really a matter of amount, volume, quality, and consumption. Alcohol has health benefits, but there’s a threshold. Too much water can kill us. Actually, a very small amount of water “consumed” in the wrong way, can kill us very quickly.
Cynicism, if consumed and utilized properly has pretty good benefits. For one thing, it’s a very important component of wisdom. Without it, we’d all be blithering, Kool-Aid drinking idiots. Happy idiots, but that’s dangerous too. We need pessimism, doubt, distrust, skepticism, and careful awareness to not die.
Navigated properly, cynicism helps us to acknowledge the imperfections of our human-created reality and the flaws of others as well as ourselves and use that wisdom to move towards a more pleasant, peaceful, and enjoyable way of being. Yeah, I know … I didn’t say “positive” or “happy”. That’s because positivity is highly complicated and when used as a blanket term, it’s bullsh*t. And happy is an emotional response to internal and external stimuli, but impossible to be 24/7 through 365.
Life is wabi sabi and trying to be happy or positive defeats the definition of actually being happy and positive. If we have to try, we are not. And telling someone within a real-time situation that they should try to be more positive could get you punched in the face. It’s like when we’re really hungry and someone says, “have an apple”. An apple. AN APPLE?! I’ll fight a bear right now and I’m pretty sure I’ll win!
Toxic cynicism however, is highly detrimental to the one who’s afflicted with it, but also negatively affects those nearby. Practical tips like “embrace positivity”, “practice gratitude”, “be mindful”, and “breathe” all make sense, right? I love how self-help platitudes tell us what to do as if humans are standard issue. We’re not logical beings. If we were, we wouldn’t have this problem in the first place. We wouldn’t be human either and that would suck.
So … what then?
Rodney Dangerfield played the character ‘Al Czervic’ in Caddyshack. At one point, his caddy in reference to how heavy his golf bag was, said “Hey what do you got in here, rocks”? And Al Czervic replied, “Are you kidding? When I was your age, I would lug fifty pounds of ice up five/six flights of stairs” to which the caddy replied, “So what”?
And Czervic said, “So … let’s dance”!
Life is a careful balance between practicality and enjoying the “dance”. Unfortunately, professional and social pressures, as well as the “news” can have us lugging bags of ice up the stairs in perpetuity, while never enjoying the dance of life.
Dance, even if we have no rhythm. Sing, even if we suck. Be authentic, even if we’re a bit “weird”. Laugh; the kind of laughter that builds abs, slaps our knees, and prevents us from breathing. And ditch the Dockers/Polo Shirt combo. It’s the official uniform of “I don’t know how to be real.”
We need to be more like Al Czervik. Now … Let’s dance.
Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures and Warner Bros.