What causes someone to become cynical? How can it be changed for the better?


What is a person who is cynical?

cynical, misanthropic, pessimistic mean deeply distrustful. cynical implies having a sneering disbelief in sincerity or integrity. cynical about politicians’ motives misanthropic suggests a rooted distrust and dislike of human beings and their society.


Is being cynical good?

Psychologists tell us that being cynical is not healthy. Critics warn that cynicism will cause you to miss out on forming deep friendships and love. Neither is true for me. People say that cynical people are often depressed and have high rates of diseases.

Quotes on Cynics and Cynicism

“Cynicism is intellectual treason.”

Norman Cousin

“Cynicism, to me, is trying to make people as unhappy as you are.” 

Ricky Gervais

“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Oscar Wilde

“A cynic can chill and dishearten with a single word.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man, and never fails to see a bad one. He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light, mousing for vermin, and never seeing noble game.”

Henry Ward Beecher

“Cynicism: The intellectual cripple’s substitute for intelligence”

Russell Lynes

“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.”

H.L. Mencken

“It is only the cynicism that is born of success that is penetrating and valid.”

George Nathan

“There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.”

Maya Angelou

“The cynic finds love with the idealist. The rebel with the conformist. The social butterfly with the bookworm. They help each other balance their lives.”

Joyce Brothers

“Most cynics are really crushed romantics: they’ve been hurt, they’re sensitive, and their cynicism is a shell that’s protecting this tiny, dear part in them that’s still alive.”

Jeff Bridges

“Progress is more of a challenge for the cynic but also more important and urgent, since for the optimist things aren’t that bad and are bound to get better anyway.” 

Julian Baggini

“Every person has the power to make others happy. Some do it simply by entering a room — others by leaving the room. Some individuals leave trails of gloom; others, trails of joy. Some leave trails of hate and bitterness; others, trails of love and harmony. Some leave trails of cynicism and pessimism; others trails of faith and optimism. Some leave trails of criticism and resignation; others trails of gratitude and hope. What kind of trails do you leave?”

Henry Ward Beecher

“Life is not an easy matter… You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.”

Leon Trotsky

“Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the furthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness: a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say ‘no.’ But saying ‘yes’ begins things. Saying ‘yes’ is how things grow.”

Stephen Colbert

II. Examples of Cynicism

Example 1

“I’ll try being nicer if you’ll try being smarter.”

This is a fairly common T-Shirt quote that neatly sums up the cynic’s attitude. A person wearing this shirt is clearly suspicious of the world, and not particularly interested in making friends with everyone. In addition, they take a dim view of others (in this case it’s viewing them as dumb.)

Example 2

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes.”

“Yeah! That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.”

This joke is a cynical response to a common moral sentiment. The first line is somewhat sentimental and encourages compassion and empathy. The second line rejects those sentiments and responds with a biting one-liner. (Note: if the person actually did steal someone else’s shoes and run off with them, it would start too look more like nihilism than cynicism – see section 6.)

IV. Examples of Cynicism in Literature

Example 1

“Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.” (Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye)

Holden Caulfield is one of literature’s great cynics. The teenager seems to be a sweet boy at heart – he cares deeply about children and clearly wants to form bonds with others – but he’s suspicious of people and quick to label them as “phonies.” He also hates sentimentality and ceremony, as shown in this quote about leaving flowers on gravestones.

Example 2

“All your grief hasn’t changed a thing. What you have lost will not be returned to you. It will always be lost. You’re left with only your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not. But if you go on, it’s knowing you carry your scars with you.” (Inman, Cold Mountain)

Inman, the main character of Cold Mountain, is a cynic who has been nearly destroyed by his experiences in the Civil War. After deserting from the Confederate army, he returns home to reflect and recover, and in one powerful scene he expresses his cynical yet life-affirming philosophy to his wife.

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