Despair’s Twin

(The Nationalist, 19 October 2001)


Begrudgery is sometimes said to be Ireland’s national vice. Maybe it is, but cynicism would give it a close run.

Cynics blame circumstances for their cynicism but the root of the problem lies within them. They say, ‘How can you expect me not to be cynical about politics after what we’ve heard in the tribunals?’ ‘How can I not be cynical about the church after the paedophile scandals?’ And so on. If cynics are serious about this, they are saying that they allow others to determine their attitudes for them, that they are reacting instead of being pro-active. They are afraid to hope lest they be regarded as naïve, afraid to trust lest they be taken for a ride. They see themselves as worldly-wise but the fact is they have nothing to offer anyone, least of all themselves. The cynic will be left alone in his cynicism, bitter, angry, and blaming others.

Cynicism is despair’s twin. There is no good that it cannot destroy; it is hugely destructive. Compared to cynicism, rust eating into a piece of iron is nothing. Cynicism is more like a cancer, a parasite which draws vitality from its host, and ultimately kills it. It likes to present weariness, failure and negativity as evidence of wisdom, experience and maturity. It uses the wisecrack with bitter and cruel skill to do a demolition job on even the best of ideas and intentions. It belittles ideas and people. It despises enthusiasm or generosity, seeing them as evidence of lack of experience or common sense, or of simple-minded naïveté. Cynics deny being cynical; they say they are realistic. But cynicism is an excuse, a cop-out, an evasion of responsibility. Cynics know what they are against, not what they’re for. And their ultimate end is suicide – of one kind or another.

The truth is that we human beings always retain the freedom to determine our own attitudes. Nothing and nobody can ever take that from us – unless we let them. The future of humanity lies with those who give people a cause for hope. Faith, hope and love are a better response to the evils of the world than cynicism, negativity and despair. It is better to light a candle rather than to curse the darkness.