Perhaps cynicism is sometimes necessary. Perhaps we are unwise to trust, to believe, to have positive expectation, to hope, to take things at face value. Perhaps the truth is negative, and what we are told is untrue, what is presented is deceitful, and disappointment is the more likely outcome. Perhaps others do act from ulterior motives, nothing is what it seems, and hypocrisy is widespread.
But where does the wisdom of cynicism lead us? It incarnates a self-fulfilling circle and is an arbitrary choice compared to a virtuous circle of trust, hope and positive expectation, which is equally available to us, and it can be argued, equally self-fulfilling. Cultures tend towards the cynical or the trusting. American culture tends to trust, even apparently naively. A great send up of this naïve trust is portrayed in Mark Twain’s ‘Huckleberry Finn’ where the king and the duke dupe successive communities along the Mississippi. Meanwhile, European culture is more cautious, and Russian culture, for historical reasons, is deeply cynical. Here there is widespread cynicism – the judiciary, the medical profession, the academic fraternity, and all major institutions of state and community are suspected of corrupt or controlled practice. And so are other people in individual interaction. The result is stalemate, inertia and sclerosis. Feudal control replaces trust, but the resulting system is inefficient. Cynicism disables.
To avoid cynicism we have to tackle the reasons for cynicism, but we also need to challenge the attitude of cynicism once it has become the established interpretation. If individual, corporate and institutional behaviour is good and true, then cynicism will eventually wither on the vine. It will have been shown to be itself untrue. For each of us, to trust is a risk. But trust can generate respect. The person who realises their word has been trusted can regard the person trusting them as naïve, and take advantage of their trust. Or they can respond to the self-respect that arises within themselves from having been trusted, and then deliver on that trust.
Reliability and honesty are the antidote to cynicism, allowing trust and hope to predominate. No politically correct legislation can achieve this transformation of our human society. It is a choice we make, a truly enlightened choice. The original Cynics were Greek philosophers who believed in living in virtue, and in accord with nature. By our own conviction and disposition, we can campaign to retrieve that more appealing vision.