Dear Donagh,

… A colleague described me as a cynic…. I think he thought it was a compliment.  I’d hate to get the name of being a cynic.  From that time I began to notice a pattern – he would often ask me leading questions like “What do you think of RTE?” or “What do you think of the Catholic Church?” or “What do you think of so and so?”  I've never been slow to say what I think about a thing, but I think he’s just looking for soundbites.  I heard a few phrases in circulation in the office that I know came from me originally.  It came as a bit of a shock, and I'm asking myself now if I have a malign influence on people.  I know I say cynical things, but mostly I'm just trying to be funny.  I have a very happy home life, and when I asked my wife if she thought I was a cynic she said no – and that if I were, she would soon knock it out of me!  Have you any comment?  Dave   

Dear Dave,

It’s good to hear that your wife is safeguarding you from cynicism, because it’s an ugly condition, as you know.  It has a corrosive effect, like acid.  Someone once said that a cynic is someone who discovered at the age of about ten that Santa Claus didn’t exist, and who never got over it.  But you are clearly not a cynic – a cynic embraces his cynicism and doesn’t want to give it up. 

It doesn't appear to me that you have a problem.  The question is about other people’s perception of you, and that is their problem.  But if you think that their perception of you is limited to one aspect, you could help them to balance it a bit: amaze them one day by lavishing praise on something or someone, the more undeserving the better: such as an annoying show-host or a pitiable singer.  That may sound cynical, but we shouldn’t always feel obliged to confirm people’s judgments about us.  No need to stay in the box.  A human being has almost unlimited capability, so keep them guessing. 

I’d like to make another suggestion.  Anger and hatred (and the like) often lead to intense action, but cynicism has an opposite effect: it drains the life-blood out of action – particularly good actions.  It makes fun of anyone who feels that something can be done.  So in addition to lavishing praise on some unworthy individual, why not do something unexpectedly gallant for someone in the office?  It’s true that it doesn’t matter what they think of you, but it matters that the atmosphere should be free of cynicism.  You will enjoy the looks on their faces.


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