Cynicism can be positive

How cynics can facilitate positive social change

By Julia Siedlanowska, Staff Writer

Recently, as I listened to the ever so happy tune “Sunday Morning” by The Velvet Underground, I couldn’t help but picture the song playing well in contrast to a depressing scene in a movie. A good example is the scene in 50/50 where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Adam, is walking through a hospital to the tunes of the Bee Gees. He is high after receiving chemotherapy, and as he walks past a gurney with a black body bag, he laughs wholeheartedly knowing he may be next. This kind of black humour is easily understood and accepted by most.

I thought about the song and how it made me contemplate the role of cynicism in our daily lives. Why could I not accept the song for what it was? (The fact that the song is thought to be about a stalker has nothing to do with it.)

Cynicism is the distrust of others’ motives based on the belief that people are motivated purely by self-interest. I believe this to be mostly true. Think of a nice thing you did and try to discern whether or not you had any hidden pleasures from that action. Chances are the kindness was mutually beneficial. There are certain truths about humanity that cynics tend to accept—and this is a good thing.

Most successful comedians today are cynics that make use of stereotypes and social taboos. Louis CK’s routines consist of setting up common moral beliefs and then admitting to ignoring them in action. They consist of making fun of sensitive subjects such as genocides and racial injustices. One of my favourite YouTube clips of CK is his appearance on Conan O’Brien’s show talking about cellphones. He admits that underneath everything, human beings are all afraid of being alone. So they need to constantly check their phones to fill the empty void inside them. This is something that we all know as the truth; however, we often chose to ignore it.

Humour is a way to deal with our problems. It can facilitate self-acceptance when we feel hatred towards ourselves. Cynics are choosing not to be a part of the status quo. If they are unsatisfied, they will voice it with sarcasm, and that’s healthy. If everyone pretended to be satisfied with the way things were, we would be in big trouble. There is a way to be a positive cynic and it is through humour. The days when I’m most down are the days when reality doesn’t coincide with the tender expectations I have for it. In these situations, the only thing to alleviate the pain of disappointment is a kindred spirit whose honesty and acceptance turn disappointment into laughter. Laughing at our own inherent selfishness is a non-confrontational form of pointing out an opportunity for change. Pretending that all of our actions as a society are positives is foolish. We must be cynics with heart.