Or Why You Should Be More Positive About a Negative Thing
The first time I was called cynical was in 10th grade. Sonny Bono had just died in a skiing accident. I re-wrote Dave Matthews’ song “Crash” to mark the occasion. My version went like this, “Crash into tree and he bled in the snow.”
I’m not at all proud of that but at the time it made a cute, older girl laugh. She was the one calling me cynical but from her lips this didn’t seem like such a bad thing. My bad behavior was encouraged. That pattern continued in this way for many years.
I don’t always walk the line. Sometimes, I ignore the line. This is not a defense of envelope-pushing. I will say though that what many scoff at as being cold, heartless, morbid, depraved, or empty has often served me well (in ways other than winning the affection of cute girls).
I have used humor to address societal ills and interpersonal conflict. My jokes are for me like a serenity prayer. By them, I cope. By them, I accept. By them, I am healed. That may sound backward to you or at least passive aggressive. It can be, I won’t deny.
Dark humor is acceptable. Meanness isn’t. I run into problems when I forget there is a difference. I run into problems when I abuse the tongue-in-cheek as means of avoiding confrontation. But these are different disputes for another day.
I know where I am weak but I must also attest there is a strength in what some of you call cynicism. There was an encounter last year when a friend called me a cynic. Theirs was in reply to a comment I made which was not so cold as it was random. There was no victim. It was like an absurd comment about the weather or the stocks. I was scolded and given some kind of “Say No to Cynicism” reproof.
No one likes to be scolded but mainly I was put off because “cynical” wasn’t the right word. What I had said was not of despair or out of the belief that there is no hope. I’m a big believer in hope. I was correcting her grammar. She wouldn’t back down. The more I protested, the more it seemed she was right. She wasn’t. I just didn’t help my case any.
She, like many other wonderful people, was coming from the position that any negative word is evidence of spiritual ill. She, like many other wonderful people, believed my crappy attitude had to be stomped on like a cockroach. Privately, I protested to another who had been privy to our conversation. I made my case on grammar but he didn’t get it. All he could say was, “Don’t be cynical.”
I had it coming but the whole exchange just bummed me out and made me more defensive. I’ve thought about that a lot in the months since then. This is what I’ve come up with:
1. Those people aren’t entirely wrong. There is something wrong with me.
2. The problem is not that I am a cynic. The problem is that I am a sinner.
3. My sin is just a bit more obvious than others and therefore an easy target.
4. I need as much grace as anybody.
5. What you might think is cynical isn’t always. Sometimes it can be healthy.
6. If you don’t like it, think of it as a language you’re unfamiliar with. You might be surprised how often you’re actually in agreement.