There was once a Greek philosopher whose name was Cratylus, who decided that he would never say anything unless he could be absolutely sure it was true. Guess what happened to him? Yep, you’ve got it. He was reduced to wagging his finger. More recently others have decided, much more sensibly, never to say anything unless they can be sure it’s kind: that works pretty well until you meet someone who needs a kick up the arse (unless you consider that said kick up the backside is doing them a kindness, which it may be). However the resolution I would like more people to adopt is this: never say anything cynical. Nothing in my life has done me so much damage as cynicism, I think. I’m not talking about a necessary cynicism which teaches you to be wary, which teaches you that politicians and salesmen are unlikely to be altruistic, or that you shouldn’t trust that email which says you’ve won a million pounds. Rather than cynicism I would call that scepticism: a healthy dose of realism which prevents you from being another Candide.
Cynicism originally was a respectable philosophy whose followers lived in barrels and thought there wasn’t much point to life. Well, I guess there isn’t if you live in a barrel, but the point of it was to detach themselves from the external and experience the things that really matter.
But latterly cynicism has come to denote a lack of belief in anything or anyone. Cynics go around teaching that nothing is worth believing in, that no-one can be trusted, that there’s no such thing as a free lunch or a noble act or a disinterested person. Such people make it their business to burst your bubble when you’re happy. They are like Lucy to your Charlie Brown:
Avoid such people, particularly in the field of politics, where they exist in large numbers. They will teach you to doubt the motives of everyone around. But ask them what they do believe in, and they’ll be reduced to wagging their finger…