Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cynicism: Name It and Claim It

Recently a friend spoke to me as the voice of conviction. I had gone to IHOP with Mike and our friend Sarah. We were discussing things that we all deeply care about, things we want to see change, things that we hope for. In the conversation, I had drawn a conclusion with grave finality, punctuated by the silence as we all absorbed it, myself smug and unhappy. Sarah broke the silence with “You seem really cynical.” She wasn't being mean. I didn't feel judged. She said it like she was telling me how her meal tasted. Perhaps it is that I am someone for whom words are not taken lightly. Or perhaps it is that her words staked out a place for the truth where only an unspoken haunting had hung. I knew she was right—I was critical and cynical—and I didn’t like it.

One of my mantras is “Question everything. Keep the good” (1 Thess 5:21). I hold it high and proud as license to critically evaluate everything. The drawback is that this thinking is a few small steps from setting myself up as the standard by which I evaluate anything and the judge for all that I criticize. In this spirit, I can easily become focused only on the failures and miss the good things in what I’m judging. Another mantra I live by is the belief that “the danger is in the extremes.” While I’ve spent a lot of time questioning everything, I failed to balance that by “keeping the good.” My friend Sarah distilled all these convictions with her terse observation over pancakes, bacon, and orange juice at IHOP.

Since then, this conviction has taken root, and I’ve been struggling to find some direction or corrective. The question I’ve come to ask is “What’s the difference between being discerning and being merely critical or cynical?” Discernment seems to have a more positive, proactive nature, whereas criticism or cynicism only sees what is wrong. But beyond seeing what’s wrong, what else does discernment offer?

Continue with "Cynicism: Broken Wisdom"


Eric, Melissa, Madeline, and Hannah Weis (and Sammy the dog) said...

It seems to be that discernment comes from God - it has a more heavenly filter from which to view things. Cynicism on the other hand is not of God - it is simply our human sin.

Eric, Melissa, Madeline, and Hannah Weis (and Sammy the dog) said...

opps ... sorry I wasn't finished writing. The rest of what I was going to say is that it seems to me that discernment also offers wisdom. It allows you to take what you know to be right or wrong and to act accordingly. Criticism offers the knowledge of right and wrong, however, that's where it stops. It offers no guidance as to what to do with the knowledge.