Culture of Cynicism


What is wisdom?  As a child I thought all adults were wise and my parents wiser than anyone.  In junior high school civics class I decided America’s founding fathers must have had the corner on wisdom.  During high school I equated wisdom with good grades, high I.Q.’s, and belonging to the “right” religion. In college I realized all adults weren’t wise, the founding fathers didn’t have all the answers, and good grades, membership in Mensa, and correct belief do not necessarily make for wise choices. Still, I looked to my country and religion for wisdom.
I see now that there was a serious flaw in the way I defined wisdom. I thought it was about acquiring the kind of knowledge that the majority of people agree is important. Like knowing scientific and historical facts. Understanding and memorizing scriptures. Having answers to questions on Jeopardy. Following the leads of authorities. Knowing which fork to use at a dinner party.
But does knowing facts, trusting authorities, and impressing everyone really mean we’re wise? Of course not. We all know clever, intelligent people—schools and large corporations are full of them—who we’d never think of as wise. People who are arrogant. Mean-spirited. Impatient. Greedy. Uncaring. Judgmental. Prejudiced. Predatory. Abusive. People who get off on making you feel uncomfortable and inferior. Who enjoy making you squirm. Who don’t care how you feel because they only care about satisfying their unquenchable hunger for feeling worthy, whatever the cost.
Nobody considers people like this wise. Yet if they’re socially adroit, verbally clever, or wildly successful, we still tend to look up to them! Worse, if we’re young and vulnerable we think we must trust and obey them. This is the kind of thinking that makes it possible for the Jerry Sanduskys of the world to scar countless innocents for life. The kind that influences middle management to disown its feelings and betray its conscience while corporate executives destroy the financial security of millions of innocent people.
What has brought humanity to the bizarre place where so many intelligent people tolerate someone’s ability to beat the system by lying, cheating, and doing whatever it takes to win—as long as that person is articulate, attractive, and successful? Why do the media ignore the pain and desperation of those who lack economic stability and social privilege? Why do so many suffer in silence until someone with passion speaks out and turns the tide of public opinion against their oppressors? What brings about a societal mindset that influences a malcontent to retaliate against injustice by killing innocent people who just want to enjoy a night at the movies?
In a world where ignorance, callousness and cruelty are electronically absorbed by the collective soul every moment of every day, we’ve grown so numbed by images of psychological immaturity and social injustice that we’ve become a culture of cynicism. The collective believes it’s foolish to feel or care. It finds perky appearances and clever repartee’ more appealing than character and tender feeling. It considers itself wise in believing that safety lies in hardening the heart and putting Number One first. It assumes compassion is a fatal flaw.
But the individual who listens to the spirit of the deep knows that cynicism is a mask we wear to cover our soul’s devastation at being scorned by the spirit of the times. The collective mind has forgotten how to feel, but the soul remembers. It knows that whenever two people push past just thinking about compassion and actually feel it, the whole hard crust of the earth cracks open and healing new life thrusts through.

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0 Responses

  1. Wow! You’ve just managed to put into words exactly what has worried and frustrated me for years, especially when I see it displayed by those I love.
    As always, thanks for being who you are – a bright, shining source of hope!!
    xoxo Jeanne

    1. I think it worries most of us who remember a kinder, more innocent time when children played outdoors all summer and only came home for dinner. When most of us couldn’t have imagined some of the things we see on TV every day. But we’re amazingly resilient creatures, and there are many ways of responding to uncomfortable truths we sometimes wish we didn’t know, cynicism being only one of them. I think the collective soul is going through a developmental phase now, much like adolescence, where fear, disillusionment, and rebellion rule. We’ll master this challenge after a while, then move on to the next. And that one will be shaped by the attitudes and actions each of us contributes to this one. Thank you for your sweet words. Jeanie

  2. Brilliant, indeed! This feels as if you were provoked by some incident that allowed that sharp, articulate mind of yours to channel a tightly knit and “right on” message that is fiercely powerful. I LOVE it and am going to share it with the parents at my school. We discuss WISDOM as a core value of our program and this will be a great conversation starter! Thanks, Jeanie!

    1. Oh, my! Thank you, Beth. I’m not sure what provoked it; it just sort of came out! That’s the way it works, sometimes. The unconscious has a mind and will of its own and sometimes I’m surprised at what comes out! I really appreciate your sharing it with the parents at Cherokee Creek Boys School. I hope you’ll let me know how that turns out! Thanks, Beth! Jeanie

  3. Jeanie,
    Wow, what a post! Love, love, love it! It did feel inspired! And I cheered every comment and reply from your readers. I said YES to every word they said too! I join them in their “thanks for being you” and sharing your special you and your thoughts, feelings and words with us! Sandy

  4. Wow, this gal has a seriously large cranium. I mean that in the kindest and most fashionable of ways, you must know. Glad to know thinkers like you are on the task—we all have our various roles and you’re doing a smashing job with yours!

  5. Hi Jeanie,
    Well said. I’m convinced along with Erich Neumann, that this is a form of holding our actions up for us to see; though projected into a scapegoat and public opinion, it’s the only way we can acknowledge our actions — by seeing their effects in others. Thanks for a good post.

    1. Hi Even,
      Yes, what I don’t want to see in myself, I see “out there.” When I wrote this my soul must have been longing to burst through a crusty cynical mask. It must have been thinking, “If only I weren’t so afraid to feel the compassion for which I yearn.” This post is about me, of course, as are they all.

  6. Brilliant!
    Of late, I have taken comfort in the concept of enantiodromia, popularized by Dr. Jung in the sense of the psyche, though he credited it to Heraclitus. It seems to me, for example, that the divisiveness of our national polity is at or near its peak, and within the coming decade we will see our national politics settle down into something more civil once again. I believe many Americans yearn for that to happen. Here’s a link:

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