Phil Friedman

7 years ago · 3 min. reading time · ~100 ·

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Cynicism Can Be the Final Refuge of Idealism

Cynicism Can Be the Final Refuge of Idealism

Cynicism Can Be the Final Refuge of IdealismEET

The Road Chronicles - II

Sometimes, those who appear the most critical and pessimistic,
are so because they visualize how much better things could be…

We generally these days take cynics to be people who display an attitude of scornful and jaded negativity, as well as being people with an ingrained distrust of the integrity and professed motives of others. In other words, we take cynics to be those among us who epitomize a crappy outlook on life. Hold that thought... 

Actually, the term "cynic" can be traced back to a school of ancient Greek philosophy, circa 400 BC. Cynics of those days believed that one should live a life of virtue in harmony with nature. Philosophical cynics rejected conventional hunger for wealth, power, or fame, and instead sought to live a life free free of material possessions and shallow desire. So you see, buried beneath a modern day edifice of scorn and seeming hopelessness, there is a vault wherein there is room for an optimistic view.

Wow, I don't believe I said that whole thing! Didn't think it was still in me, having left academia several decades ago. But get back on point...

Idealists envision how things ought to be, while realists accept them as they are. Only cynics compare the two, and rail against the disparity...

Cynics, I submit, areofthe world, steeped in its realities, yet completely  unaccepting of its shortcomings. They refuse at all times to go quietly into the night, but kick and scream and flail their fists — all the way to oblivion, if necessary. And in our continual effort to prove them wrong, they are like an anvil against which a blacksmith's hammer forges a strong and useful tool. 

I am personally not a big fan of Reinhold Niebuhr's exceedingly well known and widely lauded "Serenity Prayer", because I believe it unwittingly provides justification in most people's minds for doing nothing about almost everything that is wrong in this world.

As I see it, Niebuhr was an unrealistic idealist to think it of benefit to counsel people to accept that which cannot be changed, have the courage to change that which can, and  the wisdom to know one from the other. As any true cynic will tell you, if we had an iota of wisdom in the first place, the world would not be in the state it is in.

Cynics may disagree with you. Indeed, they may be disagreeable. But...
they are not trolls

As we approach the New Year, in the spirit of renewal that inevitably arises at this time, understand that cynics are not trolls. Indeed, true cynics may actually be key elements in the conscience of society. So, hug one. Pat one on the head. Take one for a coffee or a beer. Maybe even listen a bit to what some of them have to say. Always keeping in mind that cynicism is frequently the last refuge of idealism.  — Phil Friedman

Author's Notes:  This is the second in a series of literary and philosophical self-indulgences, which I have dubbed The Road Chronicles, because they use the concept of a highway as a central organizing metaphor. If you'd like to read the others, they are:

"LinkedIn Is a Highway, Not a Destination"

"Reaching Beyond Me"

"Do Not Mistake What Is For What Should Be"

If you'd  like to read more of what I write on a regular basis, either connect with me, Phil Friedman, on LinkedIn, or click the [FOLLOW] button at the top of this page. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.

Please feel free to "like" and "share" this post and my other LinkedIn articles — whether on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. I ask only that you credit me properly as the author. A couple of my posts on other topics are:

"Three Points of Advice to My Teenage Daughter"

"Conversation Isn't Just Waiting Politely to Speak"

About me, Phil Friedman:  With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boatbuilder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.

-- Fair winds and safe harbors

Text Copyright © 2015 by Phil Friedman — All Rights Reserved
Images Credits:  the Author and


Phil Friedman

5 years ago #10

Damn, Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr, I really miss your voice on beBee!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #9

Lada \ud83c\udfe1 Prkic, res ipsa loquitur. :-)

Lada 🏡 Prkic

5 years ago #8

In my country, a gymnasium is a four-year school following 8-year elementary education. Gymnasium ends with the final test called Matura that serves as an entrance qualification for universities. I attended a classical gymnasium and learned the Latin language.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #7

Interesting, Lada \ud83c\udfe1 Prkic, you should put it that way because... nowadays here the term "gymnasium" is a place on campus for sports events like basketball and volleyball. Thank you for re-sharing this piece. And cheers!

Lada 🏡 Prkic

5 years ago #6

Glad to read this post again. Phil, your post made me want to repeat my gymnasium knowledge in philosophy about the Cynics as an ancient moralistic school that over time completely changed its meaning and values to what cynic is considered today - the opposite of the original meaning. From the truth-speaker to casting in a negative light. As I said in my comment to Ian's post about stoicism, I think that being an occasional cynic, if there is such a term, is desirable. A realist is a cynic partially, but also, a cynic is a bit idealist. Everything needs balance. Is cynicism the last refuge for idealism - maybe. It seems like a long road with no turns. :)

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #5

Right on, Franci Hoffman. Never mistake complaining about what's wrong with the world for whining. I worry more about the attitude that we should just sit in a lotus position and hum.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #4

Don Kerr - Not to worry, for a long time I've been called many things. Indeed, I've often had variaous physical exercises suggested to me, but I always knew that the people making those suggestions were kidding ... because the exercises were anatomically impossible. Cheers!

don kerr

7 years ago #3

Phil Friedman For a long time I was labelled a cynic and I felt some degree of shame. Then, I realized that my perspective was perhaps more skeptical than cynical although that seemed a sound only a dog could hear to my friends. So, I embraced the sobriquet and accepted the title. I feel no shame and in fact take some pride (another venal sin that I embody) in my status.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #2

- - Cynics generally get a bad rap. Mostly they are working to remind us that things aren't always the way they should be, and that we should be working to make them better. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #1

Thank you, Mike, for the kind words.

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