Dillan DiGiovanni

coach | writer | speaker

Does your cynicism hurt? Because it's killing me.

Dillan DiGiovanniComment

Yes, I took one of the silliest jokes and turned it into a title for my thoughts on cynicism. 

Because this is what I'd like to say to total strangers and acquaintances and friends to either make them laugh or give them a bit of a wake-up call.

It's not like I haven't known cynicism, myself. I don't pretend to be above it all. But it's because I felt it down to the marrow of my bones, and know how little cheese there is down that tunnel as they say, that I feel compelled to ask does your cynicism hurt? Because it's killing me. Just like my own nearly killed me.

And sometimes I catch myself wishing I could have back a day or an hour that I spent sitting as a disempowered malcontent. But then I remember it was only from all the time spent suffering in my self-created prison that I truly can understand and empathize with the people still doing that and dwelling there. It's from living it that I've come to love it about myself and feel compassion for others struggling with it.

And, contrary to its current association with eye-rolling pessimism about peoples' motives, the original Greek cynics believed in virtue as the highest good and worth striving for. Ironic, eh?

So how did we get here? How did we get to the point of trolls in comment threads and naysayers at every turn? To keep not believing that people could be good or fair? To keep comparing lives of privilege and disadvantage? To find fault with virtually every action or word every person takes?

When you step back and see the shaming and blaming that goes on in the name of "social justice", it's awesome. And not in a good way.

Why does it happen? How does cynicism creep in and take over and how do we overcome it?

It's a simple decision, really. It's a choice each one of has every second or moment of each day about every person, place or thing we encounter based on past experiences or threat of our greatest fears. We reach the crossroads of that decision when we begin to see clearly through our own self-denial about our life decisions. Or maybe the blinders of our cultural/social privilege were removed and we now see the "reality" (subjective at best) of the way things work and how human beings treat each other and the systems they design benefit some more than others.

When we arrive here, at this crossroads of awareness, we may have a moment of sheer and total panic. 

Oh, my goodness, we say. What have I been doing this whole time? What dream world was I living in? What rock have I been living under? Who made it like this? Why isn't it all different?

As Emily Dickinson so wisely said, "the truth dazzles gradually. Or else the world would be blind."

I serendipitously had that sentence tattooed up the entire length of my right arm in 2009 before the fun really began and then, in 2012, I came to understand what Emily may have meant.

But up until then, I was living in a bubble of self-delusion and denial, like most humans do, buffering me from the toxicity and trauma that surrounded me every waking moment of every day. We sort of have to pretend it all doesn't exist so we can keep on, keeping on, don't we?

If you don't know what I mean, make a short list in your head of your greatest fears that you hope don't ever come true in your life and the lives of other people or the things that have that you never wanted and then just try to accept that those things are currently happening everywhere all the time and how little control you have over anything and everything. And I mean, anything and everything. 

And if we allow ourselves to even believe and digest that reality for a second, it can be completely paralyzing and maybe even be depressing to the point of debilitating. 

So we make a decision. We'll either accept it and our powerlessness (which is true freedom) or we rally to try and change and fix it all, like I did for a long time. Over time, despite our striving and trying to change and fix the ills of the world as we perceive them (in an attempt to distract us from ourselves), we see how little of a difference we're making. 

And then, oh and then, we get pissed.

We get pissed that everything is a hot damn mess and it isn't right or fair or just or clean or convenient or stable or reliable or consistent or easy or any of the things our delusion led us to believe we deserved or were entitled to.

Damn it. Our expectations of people, places, and things didn't line up with reality.

People are people.

Things break.

Weather changes.

Land erodes.

Jobs disappear.

Money comes and goes.

But people. Let's just stay with people. Because we all seem to find a way to deal with all the other things like weather and such but we can't seem to deal with how people really are. And our cynicism about people and who they are and what they do or don't really bleeds into our whole lives. Ultimately, our decisions about what we expect of people, our lack of responsibility for those expectations, really cause some rampant, contagious cynicism. And that cynicism ends up killing us, sometimes literally, and affecting everyone else.

But how many of us are even able to see ourselves doing this? How many of us have the self-awareness to separate ourselves from the pack to see our part in the whole thing?

Based on my almost four decades on the planet, not too many.

I know why. It's not a pleasant process. 

If conquering cynicism, borne of an inherent self-trust, means intentionally diving into your own disempowerment, that involves doing work most humans simply aren't willing to do. Addressing the wounds and trauma we've experienced and have likewise inflicted on others means summoning courage from places we've never accessed. Our muscles for this work are woefully weak. 

It's why cynicism is so much easier. It's our way to get and stay off the hook for this kind of work.

If we can stay bitter and angry and resentful about who others are and who we never had the courage be or become, we can hide for our whole lives.

But we're smart, friends. And somewhere deep in our subconscious, we know we're doing this. The knowing is the monster in the basement that bangs things around from time to time, especially at 3am on a work night, the ever present reminder.

We resent the monster. We resent the basement. We resent the whole damn thing called being human.

The resentment becomes ideologies with political or religious justification. Or a habit of chronic complaint. Or keeping up with the Joneses. Or gossip. Or hatchets between people that linger unburied for their whole lives.

The resentment becomes general cynicism that shields us from being truly vulnerable and ever knowing the healing power of true love, for ourselves and others.

Hiding so far and deep from that much love hurts. The realization that we do it to ourselves may be the deepest hurt we may experience.

But if we're willing to go there, we can begin the paradoxical process of undoing the very things we detest. 

In the depths of my own deepest despair brought on by years of imagined and actual trauma, I sat face to face with my contempt for every human--including myself. In that place, I had a choice. To keep hating myself and other people, cynical about everything that manifested and materialized from that place, or have a breakthrough. 

That's how my cynicism nearly killed me. It nearly deprived me of creating the very world I wanted for myself and other people. The cynicism almost took away my chance to help people learn to love themselves and other people. And without that experience, I never would have understood how pervasive cynicism is, why, and how to overcome it.

The moment we deprive someone of the opportunity to be their best self with our doubt and fear and shame and blame, the less we move toward the society we claim to want to be part of.

It's why the cynicism of others kills me because it's so obvious that, in striving for virtue, an act of self-love and self-trust if there ever was one, we are the very solution the problems we perpetuate.

Those Greek philosophers were really onto something, weren't they?