Sunday, 26 August 2012

How to be a cynical optimist

I've decided that I'm a cynical optimist.

I'm not totally sure what that means, but then again, I'm never quite sure what anything much means.

What I can say for sure is that at various times, I have been accused of being overly cynical.

I've never agreed with this assessment. I don't think I'm overly cynical at all. I just figure that I look at things in a practical and realistic way. When you read the newspapers. When you listen to the guff that politicians spin. Ok, let's not single out politicians unfairly. When you listen to the guff that lots of people spin, cynicism seems like a completely reasonable response.

And it's not just the stuff that's covered in the rarefied world of the media. Just getting through most days seems to require a healthy dose of it. Whether you're working in the public or the private sector, there's more than enough rubbish you need to wade through every day. I should know - I worked in universities for the better part of 20 years. Supposedly, universities are full of the smartest people in the country - god help the rest of us is all I can say.

As for being a writer, a dose of cynicism is more than required to get through the day. It was needed back when I was trying to deal with publishers, and their various prevarications for why they didn't want to publish my stories - especially after I saw the stories that they did publish. And it's even more necessary in the self-publishing world, where the variables that define success still often seem to have little to do with the quality of the writing.

So why the hell do I do it? Why do I put myself through all this daily torture? Because, as I said, cynicism is not the only side to me. I'm also a ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky optimist. Every day, I get up, I put all my grumbling and cynicism to the side, I look up and tell myself that there's a bright side to all of this.

It's a bit like one of my stories: Flidderbugs. I suppose it's a bit of a satire about politics and all that stuff. I've had reviewers say it was overly-cynical. I've had others say the ending is too contrived and optimistic. I like to think it means I've somehow got a good balance of the two.

Because that's the thing about us. We're all a contradiction. We all have a mix of different qualities. You just have to make sure you make the best of all of them, and don't let any take you over.

Seems to me, being a cynical optimist is the best approach to take. It means you'll always be aiming for the sky, but you'll also be aware of where the dark clouds are. because how else will you be able to avoid them?  


  1. I’ve just read through the Wikipedia article on Cynicism. I did not know that, like the Impressionists, the Cynics took their name from an insult. They were called dogs and so looked at what was admirable in dogs and turned an insult into a compliment. Interesting stuff. It’s a shame that modern day cynics have taken the word and debased it. I’m not sure if I’m so much cynical as I am disillusioned. I still tend to give people the benefit of the doubt but I’m not as surprised as I probably should be when they let me down. Maybe that’s what a cynical optimist does, gives people (including themselves) a chance to beat the odds. Perhaps that’s what a realist is. There’s a positive side to pessimism too because things are never as bad as they imagine they’re going to be; pessimists are never disappointed but they will frequently be surprised and delighted.

    1. Hi Jim,

      Nice to know that I inspired you to do some research. I think we're all a mix of a lot of things.

      Hope you have a good (and not to disillusioned) week.

  2. Cynics are more often right, but optimists have more fun.

    1. But do you have the evidence for that? Oops, I guess the cynic in my took over for a moment. I'm sure you're right.

  3. Your last paragraph says it all, and I wholeheartedly agree. I'm done being blindly kind...

    1. I guess that's the key thing. Being kind is good. Being aware is also good. Just gotta find the right mix.