Scratch a Cynic …

Sour Lemon FaceWe’ve all met them. Those people whose jaundiced view of life makes them look as though they’ve been sucking lemons for a very long time.

Their response to the fire of any new idea is to douse it immediately with a bucket of cold cynicism.

Won’t work“, they say. “Complete disaster last time we tried to do anything. Ha! Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

Or perhaps they are those whose cynicism makes them view others around them with unremitting suspicion and distrust.

Whether we encounter them at work, in a community or in our social networks, their cynicism can put a real damper on things. We may find ourselves tolerating them, we may try to ignore them, or perhaps we’ll growl and grumble about them … though usually behind their backs. :)

But what if we change that perspective a little? What if we change the questions we ask and the conversations we have with them? What if, with genuine curiosity and an empathic ear, we listen to their stories?

Almost without exception, we’ll find that sometime in the past the greatest cynics were just as passionate about changing the world around them as anyone else. And sometimes their dreams were, once upon a time, more powerful, enticing and exciting than our own.

But the stories they tell are also about disappointments, betrayals or loss. They feel bitterly let down by events, other people, ‘the system’ … and frequently politicians or the government .. :) They feel battered and shattered by those experiences and their capacity for optimism or hope is almost gone.

As the old saying goes:

Scratch a cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist every time

So perhaps, instead of grumbling to ourselves and wondering what we should do about these people, perhaps we might instead wonder what we could do with and for them. How can we help them re-kindle that ‘fire in the belly’ they once had? How can we help them rediscover their dreams?

OK, so it may not be easy. :) But it’s definitely worth the effort!


  1. A very nice article Sue.

    I have recently had a discussion about how a department nominate/select participants for an upcoming programme we will be running and there was some talk about getting in the brightest and best with the perceived highest potential.

    I suggested to that a healthy smattering of cynics would be great to include too for the same reasons you have made clear here.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Hi Frank … thank you.

    And you are so right! Not only because bringing cynics into that different kind of conversation can help to re-energize them and change prevailing cultures.

    It’s also because we need to create a space big enough for all perspectives to balance things. A ‘healthy smattering’ of cynics can help ground discussion as well.

    Often those who are seen as the ‘brightest and best’ may have all the brightest and best ideas – but not always do they know how to hang on to the string of the kite so it doesn’t fly out of sight, so to speak. :)

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