I’ve been called cynical a good number of times in my life. Most of these times were when I was a little younger, particularly in my teenage years when I wore the label as something of a badge of honor. I believed that cynical people weren’t deserving of criticism because they simply saw things for what they really are, which just happened to be a harsher view than the average person. I felt as though being called cynical was really just a way of saying that I thought differently and saw clearly. I was proud of that.
These days, I try to distance myself from the term when I can because I recognize the negative edge that cynicism can have. Now I generally think in much more positive terms (or at least I try to), and consequently I’m far more aware of when negativity creeps into my thoughts and words. I think it’s true that being an authentically hardened cynic can genuinely be detrimental to a person’s life experience (or at least diminish the enjoyment one can have in their life, even if they don’t realize it). Still, every now and again I run into the cynic label and have to address whether I’m being misunderstood or if it’s coming from the tiny cynic that’s still hiding deep inside me, rearing its ugly little head. But I think I’ve pinpointed a key distinction that draws a practical line in the sands of cynicism.
Cynicism is about actions more than thoughts. It’s about intentions rather than descriptions. It’s about attitude over realism.
Often people are accused of being cynics for simply recognizing the cold, hard truth. When you see some of the world’s harsh realities, addressing them matter-of-factly may not always yield the most optimistic, uplifting, sunshine-and-rainbows outlook. But that’s not cynicism in and of itself. Recognizing reality as it appears can’t be labeled as anything but being realistic and rational. It’s how you let that rationality affect you—your actions, your intentions, your values—that can determine whether or not you’re a true cynic. Cynicism isn’t the harsh opinions themselves so much as their manifestation in negative, critical or hopeless ways. It's embracing pessimism over realism, and assuming the worst over practicing caution. In this case, it’s not the thought that counts. Cynicism is action.
And that’s where I distinguish where I am today. Yes, I sometimes assess the world around me and come to a cold conclusion or two. I often look at a given situation or idea with a healthy dose of skepticism. But I am not the cynic that I once was. Because my core values and intentions are full of hope, positivity and love. And I’m pretty pleased with that balance. It keeps me grounded, but it keeps me on my toes as well. Like I’ve said before, life is all about keeping your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds. Paradoxical as that may seem, it’s the only way I know how to live, and striking that balance is what I attempt to do every day.