Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cynicism Can Cut Both Ways

Regular readers of my blog likely know my faults all too well.

Maybe even better than I do!

Except for my cynicism.  Believe me:  I know it's a problem of mine.  And I've been trying to correct it.  Although that process may not always be apparent!

As I've been tweaking and updating this website, I've been re-writing the "About" page, where I introduce myself to folks in a few descriptive paragraphs.  And while I normally don't like talking about my personal life, apart from various principles about my faith, I've held particular discomfort about the part where I describe myself as a "recovering cynic."

Yes, honesty is a big part of how I write, and what I write about.  So I might as well acknowledge the obvious.  But it ain't always easy.

I know I'm a recovering cynic.  And actually, I know I'm taking liberties with the "recovering" part, since my cynicism isn't so much in remission, as much as it is in therapy.  The long, drawn-out, therapist-gets to-buy-a-yacht type of therapy.  But so far, I leave the "recovering" part in, if only to remind myself that I'm accountable for surrendering it - along with everything else - to Christ.

I shouldn't just whip it out of my sin portfolio and give it a good airing now and then just because something ticks me off.

Bias, Irony, and Pride

But before I sound too virtuous about Christ sanctifying my cynicism away, we need to clarify something.  What my critics may call cynicism, and what really is cynicism, can be two different things.

Let me explain.

Upon reading an unfavorable review I wrote of her author's novel, a publisher was so upset that she surfed my blog to see what credentials allowed me to blast the inferior quality of what she'd sent to press.  On my "About" page, she found where I confess to being a "recovering cynic," so she complained to my editor something about cynics usually having grudges, which means we're biased.  Oh - and she professed to seeing no evidence of the "recovering" part of my cynicism in the harsh critique I'd written.

Which, at least in terms of the bias part, is true:  I have a bias towards good literature, and her's didn't even come close.  I don't believe Christian authors should be evaluated on a lower standard than secular authors.

If that's what it takes to make me a cynic, I'm guilty as charged.

Indeed, the irony of cynicism is that usually, people like me point out valid faults, but the people who have the opportunity to correct those valid faults automatically forget their part of the equation, and simply complain that our cynicism is un-Christian.  As if pointing out our sin negates their responsibility to fix what we've identified as needing improvement.

And then there are those threatened souls who take every form of criticism as cynicism.  I suspect people who do this - and they're mostly Type-A people who've never learned to differentiate between constructive and destructive criticism - have a predisposition towards either personal superiority or comfort.  The person who can't abide criticism needs to have the person giving it prove they possess superior authority on the subject before the contradictory viewpoint has any possible merit.

Which, of course, is simply pride, isn't it?  Not necessarily pride on the part of the person being accused of cynicism,  but pride on the part of the person who doesn't want to hear it, and can conveniently dismiss the input as being corrupt since it was voiced by an alleged cynic.

A while ago, owners of a company for which I worked were considering the purchase of an old, abandoned building to retrofit into new offices.  Their enthusiasm for this idea was well-known to all of us, but so was the fact that part of the building used to be an automotive maintenance garage.  So, silly me - I asked about the environmental remediation that would be necessary to clean up that old garage, and how costly it would be.

You'd have thought I was evil personified by the way they reacted to my question.  Because I wasn't gushing with affirmation for their overall plan, I was a pariah, and was told that my cynical attitude would not be tolerated.

As it turned out, government officials began asking the same question I did, except the company's owners hadn't acted upon it beyond their castigation of me.  For a variety of reasons, of which environmental remediation proved significant, the project quickly unraveled, but not before spending who knows how much time, effort, and money to prop it up.

Just because any of us ask questions or point out flaws in something doesn't mean we're sinning by doing so.  Yet, within the culture of American innovation, people who are threatened by questions use the cynicism label to ignore what they don't want to hear.  Especially when it's easy to assume people like me are always challenging them to a duel.

Yes, God does indeed look at our hearts when we say anything - including the constructive criticism others want to irresponsibly interpret at cynicism - but He also looks at our hearts when we're reacting to what's being told us.  Especially when we may not like it.

Grace Corrects What Cynicism Can't

Not that I'm excusing destructive criticism.  However, just because something doesn't endorse another person, does that automatically make it cynical?  Isn't it the attitude with which that comment is made, and the objective of the person making it, that renders it cynical or not?  It's what God sees in our hearts, right?

Which makes Dave Burchett's recent essay on Crosswalk.com, entitled "Cynicism is Not a Spiritual Gift?" that much more relevant to me.  Dave is a friend of mine, although not a close one.  He professes his faith in Christ to the wide, wide world of sports, in which he's an award-winning television director.  He also writes books for imperfect Christians like me.

And he's credible enough in my book to be taken seriously when he writes this for Crosswalk:

"That God sees me and looks on me with love is mind boggling.  How can I accept that love and not at least attempt to offer it to others?  Because there is not a (Christian cussing warning) dang thing that I have done to deserve mercy like that.  From a human perspective that person who incites cynicism probably doesn’t 'deserve' grace.  But did you?  Did I?"

Who else but our holy, perfect Christ would have had - literally - every reason in the world to be cynical?  Yet He never was.

Grace is what takes cynicism and molds it into something beneficial, both in the person who'd otherwise be speaking without it, or the person who would otherwise be receiving without it.  It's how God intends for His children to interact, both within our communities of faith, and towards the world around us.

That's why I want to be a recovering cynic.

"Speaking the truth in love" may not create the salacious reading material for which many people look online today.  I need to remember that, and be preaching it to myself.  The goal of whatever ministry we have - and we all have at least one - should be "love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith."

Yes, cynicism can cut both ways.  But praise be to God!  Grace can cut it off at the pass.


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