Breaking the Cycle of Cynicism

Breaking the Cycle of Cynicism January 26, 2021

Meditation for Freethinkers

In a few short weeks I’ll be 60 years old. When I was young the old timers (folks older than 55) used to tell me that life goes by fast. This was good information, but what they should have said was that life travels from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye.

As I look back through each decade of my life, I can recall all the major milestones and even a few of the more subtle changes that took place in both my body and mind. Some were good and some not so good, but every change offered an opportunity for growth. The one change I’ve definitely noticed is that as you age you get more set in your ways. I’m talking brick and mortar set-in-your-ways.

Perhaps you can relate?

You bemoan how things were so much better in your teens. You harken about “the good old days” when life seemed far less complex. You swear things are getting worse and worse. And if you’re not careful these kinds of ruminations can make you a cynic.

The magic of childhood

Do you remember how magical life was as a child? That period in your life when everything was new, exciting and mysterious?

Like most kids, watching people fascinated me the most. Every person I chanced to meet was an enigma. And I learned a lot from people watching: How to treat others, what appropriate behavior is, the right and wrong things to say, and everything else that taught me how to be sociable. But there’s a downside to emulating others too closely. We can become too indoctrinated, too politicized, and easily marginalized by the propagandists of our time.

Roger Hodgson, describes it this way in the Logical Song by the band Supertramp:

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical …
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible
Logical, oh responsible, practical
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable
Oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical

There’s a number of reasons why we get cynical with age. One reason is we’re so naive when were young. As we mature, we discover just how hard life can be, and we sour to life’s opportunities and pleasures. We also discover how rude and cruel people can be, and being cynical may just be a way of sparing ourselves from further emotional pain. But while being cynical can prevent us from harm, it causes lasting damage to us and others. Frankly, few people enjoy being around a cranky, old cynic.

To break the cycle of cynicism it’s helpful to take mental notes of the times and circumstances in which we find ourselves being cynical. Simply acknowledging these wayward thoughts can trigger us from being cynical in the future. It will also help us to see how cynicism (which sometimes masquerades as sarcasm) tarnishes our conversations and relationships with others.

If we really take the time to be mindful of our cynicism, though, we’ll get a better handle on the foundational thoughts that underscore our negativity and pessimism. These could be caused by personal relationships, or any number of events and circumstances from our distant past. More than likely, it’s a combination of many things. But only by investigating our thoughts will we be able to recognize what set us off and then turn our thoughts in a more positive direction.

About Scott Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is a former minister and now writes for Thinkadelics about the joys and benefits of living as a freethinker. He is the author of several books, as well as the previous owner of several hospice agencies. You can read more about the author here.

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21 responses to “Breaking the Cycle of Cynicism”

  1. Heh. I used to roller skate to The Logical Song at the Barber’s Point roller skating rink. 🙂

    Let me offer a counterpoint to cynicism: I’ve spent my entire adult life (approximately a million years now) working in Corporate America. When I first started right out of college, I was surrounded by older, seasoned employees and was disheartened by how cynical they were. Roughly 30 years ago, my section of Corporate America went on a crusade against cynicism and sarcasm. These were BAD BAD THINGS and anyone showing these features should be shunned.

    This was around the time when I started opening my eyes, and I asked myself why Corporate America was so desperate to quash the mindset. That’s when it hit me that caution learned from paying attention to bad things done (aka cynicism) and anger at being mistreated (sarcasm) are actually healthy reactions to an abusive situation.

  2. The Logical Song was a blast from the past. It’s a great song for freethinkers … it makes a person question the influences in their lives.

    Thanks for the counterpoint. Although I wrote the post, I’m guilty of being both cynical and sarcastic. There are degrees, of course, in how one feels and uses these terms.

  3. Happy upcoming birthday, BTW!!!

    Also, how is your book about your son coming along? You haven’t posted an excerpts for awhile.

    Additionally, the 1970s and 1980s were a great time for a wide variety of music, including some that really made you think.

  4. I’m just a little younger than you and my kids are a little younger than yours, but they grew up listening to 80s music in the car. Midnight Oil is also great, “How can we sleep when our beds and burning?” A lot of 1980s music was about thinking about what’s going on around you. And a lot of it was just silly fun, and some of it examined the cognitive dissonance: “Crazy people walkin’ round with blood in their eye, and all she wants to do is dance” (when things are so terrible that the mind shuts down).

    When I listen to regular, over-the-air radio, my impressions are: 1) SO MANY commercials, 2) nobody can actually sing.

    I noticed in the 1990s (when I spent entirely too many Saturdays in roller skating rink birthday parties my kids were invited to) that commercial music featured vacant-eyed pop-tarts making off-key sounds with their mouths. This was perfectly captured on American Idol (the kids liked it) where one of the semi-finalists had to have the song “Walking after midnight” explained to her.

  5. LOL! You would think that with all that’s happening in the world today that today’s music would reflect on life at a deeper level. It doesn’t seem that way to me, especially when it seems like so many of the “great” pop artists got their start on American Idol or at Disney. Honestly, I’ going to give the younger generations a pass and say that I’m out of touch. I’m guessing there’s new music out there that really speaks to the younger generation and to their issues. Like with our generation, the best music doesn’t get radio play. You have to go underground to hear it, because it’s not popular, and because it’s not popular it doesn’t make money. The same holds true for much of modern art. Because it’s so commercialized there is very little originality and vision to it.

    I could go on and on being cynical and sarcastic, but then I’d be a hypocrite for writing this post!

  6. Funny you should mention Disney; I had a kid who loved the 1990-something Beauty and the Beast; I liked the way Celine Dion could sing well enough to buy a couple of her CDs, and I’ve been a fan ever since. No auto-tuning for her; she’s got range and sings in 5 different languages (and speaks at least 2).

    Just recently I’ve been hearing a pale imitation of her song for a remake of that movie, sung by a current Pop-Tart. She’s flat, obviously autotuned, and is just hitting notes to hit notes…I don’t think she has a clue what the words she’s singing actually mean.

  7. Celine has a wonderful voice. And one of many individuals that have legitimate talent but also influence the pop arena. I have several favorites that fall into the category like John Legend, Lady Gaga, and John Mayer. Although some artists like John Mayer have a following in two areas. He produces great pop music, but also really shreds the guitar with music you just won’t hear on mainstream radio.

    The pop arts are funny like that. Successful pop music and other pop arts have to be really “dumbed down” for folks to understand or appreciate it. I really notice it as a writer. As an example, when I write my posts here I can get direct input and analysis about the “level” of my writing or the effectiveness of my SEO content. To get a good grade on my writing content I have to work hard at providing very little content and writing it in 6th grade English! I often flunk this task.

    I think artists (if I can call myself this) must make ongoing decisions on how to tweak their art to have more pop appeal or to offer more substance. The more an artist compromises to appeal to a larger audience the more successful they are likely to be. I will likely remain one of those starving artists. 🙂

  8. I like the singers you like.

    The GPO handbook (Gov’t Printing Office) used to recommend writing at an 8th-grade level, but that was back in the 1980s. I believe now the preferred literacy level is the 6th grade. I wonder if it’s part of the general anti-education, anti-intellectual turn the USA has taken since Reagan, but I’m seeing illiteracy more and more, and it seems like the average American doesn’t know the difference between wonder and wander, insure and ensure, they’re/their/there…and thinks an apostrophe is an early warning signal that the letter S is about to occur.

  9. Also, art vs. commerce. I understand–you can make the best art in the world, but if nobody wants to buy it, then it won’t be commercially viable.

  10. Don’t you think social media platforms have a lot to do with the dumbing down of language as well?

    As a writer, I actually enjoy the challenge of condensing a point for Twitter, appealing to an audience on Facebook, or writing in a blog format. But I enjoy writing more serious articles as well. Each one of these social media platforms attracts different kinds of people. They all use unique terms and expressions. Which is cool when you think about it from a linguistic standpoint. And their impact is global as well. Young TikTok users in China versus Instagram users in Italy are developing their own tribal ways of saying things.

    Still, I have to “wander” 🙂 … that reading longer articles and books, written with more complex phrases and a high-level vocabulary, requires a certain set of reasoning skills that is becoming extinct. There are deeper ideas and concepts that just can’t be expressed in under 2000 words.

    And about that heroin Cevan Kostner … i don’t think Ive ever red a book that doesnt have a # of mistakes init. When I make typos, (or in cases when I’m typing too fast and auto-correct auto-mistakes them for me), they help to remind me that I’m only human.

  11. I think you mean Costner is the hero. 🙂

    I am the grandchild of immigrants, on both sides. All of them valued literacy in English, so while we might not have spoken English at home, we read and understood it just fine. All the grandchildren got subscriptions to children’s magazines and were required to write thank-you letters in English.

    Funny story from my one grandmother, who as the oldest child was responsible for learning English and teaching it to the rest of her family: when she was in elementary school, the class had a field trip to a museum and were required to have 15 cents for carfare (bus fare…this was in the 1920s…). When my grandmother came home and told her parents she needed money, she understood it was for coffee–cafe (can’t do the accent over the e, sorry). Her father demanded to know why she needed cafe on a field trip, that they had cafe at home.

    As for attention spans and concentration; it’s definitely on the decrease in the USA. I see it in myself, I see it in others. That’s one of my reasons to meditate; to keep in practice for focusing my attention.

  12. Yes. (I made a number of deliberate typos in the that sentence.)

    Nice story. My great, great grandparents immigrated from Germany. Here’s an interesting field trip if you haven’t taken it already … Ellis Island in New York city.

  13. Oh, I’ve been to Ellis Island any number of times. 🙂 If you start in Jersey City, you can ride the boat to several islands including the one with the Statue of Liberty. Also a nice plus; parking in Jersey City is free if you pay to ride the boat around.

    I overlook the typos so long as the meaning is clear. Everyone makes typos sometimes.

  14. Thanks for the tips! My wife and I went to NY a few years back. It’s one of those trips everyone should do at least once. You know, just so you can recognize parts of the city when watching movies that feature the city. As it so happens we were walking in central park and stumbled across Jennifer Lopez filming a scene for Second Act.

  15. You’ve just touched on something that frustrates me; in certain parts of the country, they’ve been brainwashed to hate and fear New York City and anything to do with New York State (which is huge and has many different areas from rural to big-city). Just recently, one of my coworkers was talking about the big lottery: if she won, she was buying a beach house in the Hamptons because she’d been there once and loved it. During the conversation about beach houses and getaways, I mentioned Long Island, and she corrected me that the Hamptons were not on Long Island. When others jumped in to say yes, they were, she went off about how much she hates New York and everything there is horrible.

    Her? She’s from a farm area in the Ozarks, where she openly talks about the stark, vicious racial prejudice and the fact that she and her siblings were horrendously abused and it was open knowledge and nobody cared because a man can do whatever he wants to with his possessions, including making his kids quit school at 16 and become slaves on his farm. But sure, New York is the problem…

  16. That’s interesting, especially because I’ve never run across people expressing that kind of hatred for NY. Perhaps it has something to do with people disliking liberalism, or or a bias against the wealthy whom they think are the only people who live there? On my one visit there I stayed in Harlem at a humble B & B. I got my breakfast from the corner deli owned by people of unknown immigration status. Had dinner a few times at a nearby cheap, and not so good Mexican hole-in-the-wall where they didn’t speak English.
    I wanted to get a feel for the diversity that dwells there and I did. It’s quite the fascinating place, but I could never live there.

  17. NYC is a city with five boroughs. There are low-income places and high-income places. There are good restaurants and bad restaurants. There are parks and museums and retail stores and sidewalk stalls of various legalities. There are historic sites and modern buildings.

    This is quintessentially New York City to me: I was down south with an infant and a toddler and my husband was away on a business trip when there was a death in the family and a funeral to attend. Not wanting to drive many hours with two little ones in the car and not being able to afford 3 plane tickets, I took the train up to Union Station, where I then needed to hop a subway to get where I was going. The elevator was not working and I stood there in dismay with a double stroller (infant plus toddler) and a suitcase, looking at the flight of stairs and wondering how to carry all that up. I was flanked by two men and a woman; the men grabbed one side each of the stroller and the woman grabbed the suitcase, and we all went up the stairs together. At the top, each of them went their different ways. We were all strangers, but they saw I needed help and just pitched in.

  18. What a great story! and a heartwarming memory. Now that I have been to Union Station I can totally relate. I also remember being in US in the afternoon when commuters where headed home. It was pretty tough trying to walk headlong into those masses of people.

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