Reflections On Cynicism~ In Which A Sponge Shares Her Safety Blanket With The World

Hello, my friends!

It’s time for another Deep Philosophical Ramble about what is going on in this sponge-brain of mine. Today I will be rambling about my problems with cynicism and pessimism and and how these things effect my view of life. And of course this will all relate to stories eventually because obviously everything does.

I consider myself to be a cynic. I have considered myself to be a cynic for pretty much as long as I can remember. At times I have taken pride in it, and at times I have been mildly annoyed by it. But in any event, it’s become a part of who I am.

It always seemed to me that cynicism was the most logical way to move through life. You assume the worst at any given time, and then you can’t be disappointed. You find the flaws in any given scenario, place, or piece of art, so as to avoid getting taken advantage of, or making a fool of yourself.

It’s pretty handy.

The Safety Blanket

In a way, cynicism and pessimism have functioned as a safely blanket for me. For a long time this worked well, at least it seemed to, and I liked my safely blanket a lot. It was comfortable and cosy and it made me feel like I was level-headed and in control of things.

But my cynical outlook has started to get more aggressive in the past few years, without me really meaning it to. The safety blanket has started to become smothering.

It used to be something I chose. I would decide to seek out the worst in everything, because it made me feel smart. I associated my pessimism and my ability to criticize things with my intelligence. I was a cold-eyed cynic. If something bad was going to happen, I would foresee it. If there was something wrong with a book or a movie, I would extricate it. I would dissect it. I would tear it apart. I would get to the truth (or so I thought) of whatever it was. I wouldn’t let anything fool me.

The thing is, it doesn’t feel like a choice anymore. I have done it so much that I see the terrible things everywhere, even if I don’t want to.

And sometimes it’s like the positive things don’t even exist. I literally can’t see them.

Clearly it’s time to talk about Santa Claus now…

You know that kid in The Polar Express who is afraid to believe in Santa Claus? That is totally me. That movie is surprisingly profound at times. One of the scenes that strikes me the most is when he is talking to the strange hobo on the train. The kid says, “I want to believe. But…”

And the hobo finishes for him: “But you don’t wanna be bamboozled. You don’t wanna be led down the primrose path! You don’t wanna be conned or duped, have the wool pulled over your eyes. Hoodwinked! You don’t wanna be taken for a ride, railroaded! Seeing is believing. Am I right?” –The Polar Express, 2004

I have been realizing how much my attachment to cynicism comes out of fear. I am so afraid that I am going to get caught believing something that isn’t true.

And for some reason I have decided that being cynical about the world is the best path to the truth. But is it?

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Okay, so maybe I am not really a cynic…

Constantly being negative about everything is not giving me a more accurate picture of reality. Who decided that the negative aspects of reality are more real than the positive parts? Am I focusing on the bad stuff because it’s more true, or because I am afraid of getting hurt?

I want to be smart. Obviously. I want to make sure everyone knows that I know when something is flawed. This has become something of an obsession. I have taken discernment to one extreme.

Discernment is an important skill. But it’s not just for seeking out the bad in things. I should be able to find the good in things too. And that is getting harder and harder.

And this is where my cynicism breaks down.

If I was a true cynic, I would probably assume that this was because there really wasn’t much good to begin with. I would think that the world was just depressing and evil and everything was hopeless. I would think that the more discerning I got, the more badness I would see, and the less good I would see. Or something like that.

But, as I have pointed out in a previous post, I am an inconsistent sponge indeed.

As cynical as I can be, I am actually a starry eyed idealist who believes that everyone has meaning and purpose and beauty and that ultimately the ending is happy. I am a cynic who believes in happy endings. I am not sure how that works.

My cynicism is trying to drown me, but I don’t want it to.

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Optimists (not be be confused with optometrists)

We often blame the optimists for ignoring reality. We blame them for seeing sunshine and rainbows when the world is dark and tragic. How ridiculous those optimists are, not facing the facts.

But maybe they are not as wrong as I tend to think they are. Maybe I have trained myself not to see the sunshine and the rainbows, even when they are right in front of my face, because there is always the chance that they are not really there- so I don’t even see them when they are.

I say I will believe it when I see it but I’ve trained myself never to see it at all.

More story associations

Something that has really been in my mind recently is that scene from The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis, when they have all entered the new Narnia but the dwarfs are convinced that they are still in a dirty stable. They literally can’t see the wonderful landscape around them.

“They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” -Aslan, The Last Battle

It is a troubling idea. Because I can relate so much to the dwarfs. The fear is genuine and visceral. And the reason the fear is so strong is because we have been tricked, taken advantage of, laughed at. There really are lies that try to “take us in” so to speak. Beauty is often a façade, a cruel joke, that will hurt us bitterly in the end. So we become wary of it. And we have to do this, to some extent. Don’t we?

Are we so afraid of being taken in that we can’t be taken out of the tangled mess of safety nets we have made for ourselves and look at the sky?

Am I brave enough to see beauty when it is really there? Do I have enough courage to seek it out? Can I choose to believe in the face of my deepest fears?

Maybe it sounds sappy and sentimental. Maybe it sounds naïve, even stupid. Maybe that’s just one of the things I am afraid of.

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Fairy Tales

Are fairy tales unrealistic, an ideal that we’ve fabricated to make life more bearable, or are they the manifestation of a truer world that we can just barely see? I feel like we have to make a decision about which of these truths we believe. I think it has a huge impact on how we live our lives.

My cynicism has gotten aggressive enough that it has had to come face to face with my deeper convictions about life, my convictions that at the end of the day love is stronger than hate, that goodness is greater than evil. That sounds like a fantasy novel, doesn’t it? Is the idea that good conquers evil a fantasy that covers up the brutality of real life, or has “real life” clouded something that is deeper and truer that we are afraid to believe in anymore? One of them has to take dominance.

In spite of my plaguing doubts, I want to choose the happy ending.

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Epilogue

My cynicism has led me to form nasty habits. Of course I can’t change them all at once, but there are small things I can do to try to tame it.

One very small thing I am going to do is try to find something good or redeeming about every book I read, and every movie I watch. That doesn’t mean I am going to lose all of my discernment. It doesn’t mean I am going to love everything now. But it does mean I am going to look for things to love instead of things to hate.

Do you grapple with cynicism at all? Do you ever find yourself being overly critical? Do you often take pride in your criticism skills, like me? Have you ever found that to get out of hand? What do you think about fairy tales? I would love to hear any and all thoughts you may have on this topic.

 

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22 thoughts on “Reflections On Cynicism~ In Which A Sponge Shares Her Safety Blanket With The World

  1. Oh I lie somewhere between a cynic to a realist in real life. Of course I get starry eyed once in a while and have a great imagination but the cynic in me keeps me grounded anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds well balanced. I jump so dramatically between two extremes. On the one hand I can be painfully cynical and on the other hand I ask “Why do we have to be grounded? Let’s all fly to the stars!” I still don’t get how those things work together. Thank you for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ever since I was a child, I was optimistic and still am. I can appear the opposite at times. I do understand that the world is broken, but at the same time believe that most people are good.

    Fairy Tales- I have always loved them- Fairy Tale or Fantasy. There is truth in them in terms of the message. They may have things that don’t exist- isn’t that the point of any story? Believe in a story that isn’t real- from characters to their world, etc. All stories whether it is a fairy tale or not- you still are using you imagination. I am writing a Fairy Tale- children’s fantasy. Of course, Fairy Frogs and Toads don’t exist and The Cattail Forest I created- stories are believing in something that isn’t real.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that is a good place to be- being able to see the brokenness and still believing in the good in spite of that.
      I have always loved fairy tales and fantasy as well, and agree that there is truth to them. They open up our imaginations, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that believing in stories is believing in something that isn’t real. I think they have to be real, or they wouldn’t mean anything to us. But I guess that depends on what “real” means. They don’t have to be things that actually physically happened- in that sense they are not real. But I think that fantasies are our way of quantifying things that can’t be quantifiable- real things that we are trying to understand, but can’t quite grasp a hold of. And they are no less real for that.
      Thank you for your thoughts!

      Like

  3. Oh! Yes, I’m totally totally a cynicist, which is kind of demonstrated in both real life and both in my blogging as I constantly point out flaws in myself. I think it can be helpful to be realistic and realize all of the flaws, but it can definitely be tiring sometimes as I always see the negative, as if negatives being present in a situation is terrible. Because life is hardly ever going to have all positives and just because something has drawbacks, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. This comment is really rambly, but I really liked seeing this post in my feed! ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Yeah, I think it is good to have a balanced view- being about to see that the negative things exist, but being able to see the positive things too. Sometimes I focus way too much on the negative ones! I think it’s fine when I am just being super harsh on myself, but then it starts to leak out into the way I view other people, and then I start to realize what a problem it is. It is unhealthy to recognize a person by only their flaws, and it is unhealthy to do that to myself too! It has taken me way too long to figure that out.

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  4. This reminds me of something we learned and discussed in my history/English class this year. We were learning about the Renaissance and all the thinker of that time period. Two of them were John Locke and Thomas Hobbes (did you know that the comics Calvin and Hobbes were named after philosophers??). Locke believed that man is inherently good, and Hobbes believed the opposite. I think that’s one of the most basic questions. I remember my teacher asking, if we believe that man is basically good, why do we lock our doors? Me thinking about this question requires that I clarify what I think “bad” means. I believe that man is naturally selfish and prideful, but I think there’s something in us that stops that selfishness from hurting others at an extent. That’s me trying to balance the under God perspective of sin on one hand and us made in God’s image in the other. Another thing we did in class was take this quiz on how Machiavellian you are, which I think is very related on whether you think man is “good” or “bad”. The weird thing was that everybody when we took it had the automatic mindset that to see people as inherently good was a good quality-but then in daily life, it feels like that gets made fun of. There’s something in us that wants to believe in good.
    If you are interested, I really encourage you to look into the Enneagram-it’s a personality framework but not exactly like all the other personality typing systems out there. I have a feeling you would like it.
    I love your goal of finding something good in every book and movie (please tell me how it’s going), and I love fairytales. :))

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I can’t believe I forgot to say thank you for writing this post, for being open. If it’s naive to believe beauty, I’m fine with that. I struggle with being overly critical, mostly towards myself and my parents, but I think I am less so cynical.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you! I appreciate your support. 🙂 I think there is bravery in believing things that other people will look down on you for. My value on intelligence can sometimes get in the way of that. I think most of us struggle with being overly critical to some extent, especially towards people who are close to us. It’s something we can all work on together!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. That is really interesting! Yeah, I think the struggle between sin and being made in God’s image is where a lot of that stems from, even if people don’t consciously know that. Saying that people are ultimately good or ultimately bad can’t encompass the complexity of what is actually going on. We all have the potential for both, I think. We are born with both. We struggle with how to deal with the world because we want to believe in a good world, but then the badness comes in, and what do we do with that? It all seems like one big contradiction a lot of the time, but it really isn’t. It’s just hard to understand.
      Enneagram- hm, I will check it out. Thanks!
      Haha, it’s difficult to do sometimes! I am in such a habit of going directly to the bad things that I have to try absurdly hard to not do that, and to REMEMBER to try. But I just saw Into the Spiderverse last night and I really enjoyed several aspects of that, so it wasn’t hard. 🙂
      Thank you so much for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! Yea, I think that’s right-not always knowing why we struggle the things we know we struggle with. Yea-A big contradiction that’s not a contradiction-a paradox!
        Here’s another sort of paradox I’m thinking about. The other week at in school, a speaker talked how following your heart is terrible advice because of the bible verses talking about the deceitfulness of our hearts, but I’m also hearing from so many writers and thinkers about being quiet and listening to ourselves and God. But if God mostly speaks to us through our thoughts, that’s like following our hearts.
        Ahh, yay! You’re welcome. :)) Oh, also, I read Orbiting Jupiter in I think two days this week, and now I’m reading The Wednesday Wars. I love how the two books are written pretty differently.
        Ohh, I’m glad you liked a lot of things about Into the Spiderverse! Wasn’t the animation amazing?
        And you’re welcome, thank you for writing the post and creating the opportunity to do this. :))

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Following your heart really is kind of a paradox. Because the heart is deceitful above all things but God also says that if we seek him he will give us the desires of our hearts. I think it really comes back to the sin nature versus being made in God’s image paradox. God places godly desires in our hearts, but they are mixed with sinful desires, and figuring out which is which is hard sometimes.
        Awesome! Yeah, Gary D. Schmidt is pretty good at giving his characters distinct voices.
        The animation in Into the Spiderverse was amazing! It was unique, and I liked it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ll admit, I can be pretty cynical, but I think that goes along with being rational so I am sort of proud of it. It can certainly be taken to an extreme, but the number of times I’ve tried to go into a book or movie with an open mind just to have my cynical suspicions confirmed makes it difficult to stay open minded the next time. My favourite stories are the ones that make me think and feel enough that I forget to be cynical, if that makes sense. They suspend my disbelief, as someone (Tolkien, I think?) put it.
    Interesting thoughts! And very philosophical 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, being rational and being cynical do tend to go together, and I can be proud of that too. But sometimes I get too proud of it, I think. I am in a philosophy class right now and one thing that strikes me is the huge emphasis on rational thought. I mean, that totally makes sense because it’s what allows us to think about abstract things like philosophy at all, but sometimes I wonder if we put it on too high of a pedestal. It’s important, but is it actually the ultimate human experience? Could there be something beyond rational thought, and can we accept that? In my class, reason is God, basically. Anything that rational thought can’t be applied to is pretty much irrelevant. I just think it’s interesting.
      Ugh, cynical suspicions get confirmed WAY to often. I relate so much to what you said about the best stories being the ones that make you forget to be cynical. I need stories to be so good that they MAKE me love them. With stories this can be okay, but it gets problematic when I start applying that mindset to humans too.
      Haha, thanks. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Your sensitive and thoughtful post, which I just stumbled upon, reminded me of a story told by William James. A mountain climber comes to a deep cleft in the midst of a blizzard. It looks too wide for a safe jump, but she knows that if she remains where she is, she will freeze to death. James’ suggestion is that there is only one option. The mountain climber must summon all of her courage and confidence, will herself to believe that she can make the leap, and go for it. If she jumps only halfheartedly, beset with doubt, she will surely fail to make the other side and will plummet to her death, But if she is able to summon all of the courage and confidence within her, she just might make that difficult leap. And, James adds, even if she doesn’t make it, isn’t that the way she should want to leave this world? Now that I’ve found your website, I plan to keep visiting.

    Liked by 1 person

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