The Malady of Cynicism
and how it can kill achievable and meaningful dreams
In the bustling city of Kolkata, once lived a man of faith and fear. However, his faith was invested in the image of a tyrant God. He believed in someone who lives in the sky, is powerful, omnipotent, and serves justice - a standard patriarchal God. He was an average man who fled his country during the 1971 war, a man of faith, whose only deliberate vice is cynicism. A strange man indeed. I don’t know my grandfather as a person, since he passed away many years before I was born, but I know one thing about him which paints a very distinct image of his character in my mind. He was a cynic who indulged in the excess of superlatives. In his world, the worst is inevitable. People are not bad they are worst, things are not bad but worst, risk of investments are not bad but.. well, you got the idea.
My grandfather was a tall man whose faith in the goodness of anything was quite puny, so he prayed to his invincible Gods at least three times a day. In the department of quirky grandparents, I gave him some extra brownie for at least trying to work his way towards faith - even if his method was flawed. Back then, life was hard generally because of the slow economy. It was harder more so for people who fled the war and have experienced way too much violence. The PTSD was so deeply suppressed that the subconscious mind had to morph the fear into distrust and bitterness. Even if my grandfather’s action bore me no consequences, who for most of his life was also a good man, I found him irksome for some very specific reasons. To begin with, his cynicism led to complacency even in an impoverished life.
His lack of vision and dubious nature did pull him back more than just once to work his way out of poverty towards a prosperous life. I heard my grandmother recount the story of how some of his friends were investing to buy some humble real estate in Park Street. She also recounted how cheap the investment was, but as habit obliged him, my grandfather discredited this opportunity with his unique flair of cynicism. He thought the money was safer in the almirah locker. The value of the same land that my grandfather refused to purchase isn’t humble anymore, and this sensational tale has become the gold standard for inherited regret in our family.
If you ever find life pushing you towards a potential opportunity, you will also experience enormous friction. In the words of Steven Pressfield, this force is called resistance. This resistance can manifest in various forms, but the most dangerous voice is that of the inner cynic. Don’t listen to that voice. Battle the minions of cynicism with a fervor for adventure, and you will be on the path of progress. Adventures are essential because they are counter-spirited to cynicism. The ability to meet one’s fate with an indefeasible sense of excitement, says a lot about the trajectory of your life. After all, failure is a recurring theme of life but accepting them as a permanent one is a matter of choice.
My grandfather was born poor and died poor, he was comfortable in his poverty. His character and confidence evolved from his ability to incessantly complain about the difficulty of life. All he needed, was a little bit of excitement for new things and the courage to try them. His situation was not an incurable one, neither was it a generational one. Even today we serve ourselves all flavors of cynicism. The recent varieties range from the countless argument on how hyped the pandemic is, to the constant cultural nudge to be a conventional product of the 21st century. Cynicism is sprinkled in every nugget of digital information we consume.
Adventure is an antidote to cynicism
Time and again, I enjoy watching a few eyebrows raise when I tell people that writing is my career. Some concerned ones advised me to reconsider my career choice, and some have accepted it with a smile that hides the snide remark “this phase will pass”. The only antidote to the contagious disease of cynicism is enthusiasm for more adventure. Most days when I received unsolicited wisdom on the dangers of not having a backup plan, I counter it with more work. I undertake more immersive writing exercises, experiment with techniques, or venture into an unknown genre. On such days, I throw myself out of my comfort zone to innovate and upgrade my skills. All of this because unlike my grandfather I am not satisfied with complacency.
If you have to take away one learning from this thought exercise try this: When you encounter confusion, rejection, cynicism, and failure which lures you to surrender and be comfortable in that defeated identity of self - do something radical. Start where you are but invent a new method of working. Don’t be afraid of tossing the whole project in the bin and starting over with a fresh perspective. Creativity is your ally - create yourself a wonderland and re-discover the rules.
Reinvent you techniques, style, and skills
Things often work out well when we face challenges with an altered perspective. Adventures are addictive because they invoke a paradigm shift. All the best stories are written in the foreground of an inspired life. However, inspiration won’t find you on rainy days. You should be inventive enough to engineer your muse. Go seek some adventure to encounter it. And then use it to create a body of work that can take down cynicism flat on its face.
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