3 People That Keep Me Up at Night - #2 The Cynic
The critic is easy enough to recognize, but what about the cynic? Who is he?
Put simply, the cynic believes he has a better grasp on reality than you. He never gets it wrong, but you always do. He will not help, but he is first in line to point out your mistakes. He will vote “No” and tell everyone why, but he offers no alternatives. Deep into the night, you see his face and you hear his voice rehearse his favorite lines, “I knew it.” ”I told you so.”
Cynics are chronic side-liners with a clever excuse. He is justifiably jaded and you can’t possibly understand how he feels or comprehend what he knows.
I think Chicago Journalist Syndey J. Harris’ description of a cynic states it best, “A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.” —Sydney J. Harris, On the Contrary
So how are we to deal with the cynic so we can get some sleep?
Don’t swallow the nocebo. You’ve heard of a placebo, but have you ever heard of a nocebo? Didn’t think so.
Lissa Rankin M.D., in an article published at phsychologytoday.com, reports that negative beliefs can harm your health. As powerful as the positive suggestion of the placebo is the negative suggestion of the nocebo.
Patients given placebos, but believing they are taking the real medications, have actually seen ulcers heal, drops in blood pressure, and warts disappear. Even men who “believe” they are taking Rogain, but are actually taking sugar pills, begin to regrow hair.
Give me some of that!
The cynic is the street dealer of the nocebo. The nocebo is the negative side of the power of suggestion and can be as harmful as a placebo is helpful.
“When patients in double-blinded clinical trials are warned about the side effects that they may experience if they’re given the real drug, approximately 25% experience sometimes severe side effects, even when they’re only taking sugar pills. Those treated with nothing more than placebos often report fatigue, vomiting, muscle weakness, colds, ringing in the ears, taste disturbances, memory disturbances, and other symptoms that shouldn’t result from a sugar pill.”
The Bible is way ahead of the studies. Over 3000 years ago, Solomon reported, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones (Prov. 17:22).” If the nocebo effect is real, all the more reason why you can’t allow the cynic to become the dominant voice in your head - or you will lay awake at night.
Paul understood the power of positive belief, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil. 4:8).”
You will never sleep if the cynic’s voice becomes your bedtime song. Test his lyrics - is it true? Is it honorable? Is it just? Is it pure? If not - take no thought of it.
Consider what he says, not the way he says it. For some reason the cynic’s spirit is crushed. Try to dismiss the spirit of the cynic, but don’t be so prideful to think that nothing can be learned from him. His information may be helpful. It is his attitude that is not.
Often cynics develop out of bitterness from the disappointment of a past mistake. There may have been a time in which he was very eager, extremely hopeful - but failed to meet expectations. Again, apply Paul’s series of questions from Phil. 4:8 - Is it true? Is it honorable? Is it . . . ? I despise the cynic’s whine, but I may be able to learn from his experiences.
Remember, it’s not about you. The goal of the cynic is to do to your soul what has been done to his - crush it. Again, discard his attitude. His pessimistic sense of reality is a defense mechanism. If the cynic can give you every reason “it won’t work” he doesn’t have to get involved and relive the hurt. This being the case - try not to take his attitude personally. His cynicism is not ultimately about you, it is something in him.
The cynic points out every reason it won’t work. It gets in your head. Negativity doesn’t require a megaphone, your brain will provide the amplification. The good news is, our faith requires us to be more hopeful than perfect. Yet, when Eeyore begins to give counsel, you lay awake at night dejected that not everyone is as excited about the task as you seem to be. Don’t back down from your assignment, vision, or involvement.
The cynic is petrified by his realism. Don’t be blinded by your idealism. The cynic’s pessimistic realism is misguided in thinking that because the world is not right, he does not have to be involved. You may be tempted to think that because not everyone is excited about the possibilities as you that the whole thing is doomed to fail. Really?
So there’s someone out there who doesn’t think it will work. If you’re totally deflated by that reality, the cynic is not your problem. You’ve got self-righteous, idealism issues!
The cynic may be a well placed thorn of grace. Your idea may be great, but if it is absent of humility and dependence, it needs deflating. The cynic is a master of sucking the air out of a moment. Your sleepless night may be a blessing in disguise, pray to God for help.
Every task we accomplish requires some degree of redemption. So someone disagrees. You don’t have all the answers. It may not all go according to plan. The cynic sings - so what. Whatever we do, we don’t want to join the cynic’s “premature disappointment with the future.” Press on. See what happens and how God works.
The lens of the gospel calls for us to understand that we live in a world that is disappointing. Not every idea will work, in every situation, at every time. There have been times in my ministry when I felt like writing a book entitled 50 Great Ideas that Didn’t Work in My Church, But are Sure to Work Awesomely in Yours.
The cynic allows his disappointment to embitter him. The realism the gospel calls us to helps us to see that our set-backs can become set-ups.
There is always something to be learned in Christ. We guard ourselves from the cynical soul as we realize that ultimately everything comes back to Him - bitter disappointment, triumph, tragedy, victory. Christ makes everything count.
In speaking of his past accomplishments and his defeats, Paul realized that in all things there is ultimately only one goal - to know Christ and His resurrection. Paul had enough intelligence mingled with enough disappointment that he could have easily embraced cynicism. Yet he chose to remain hopeful by bringing all things to Christ. He said:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:12-16 ESV)
The gospel informs us that to become as distrustful as the cynic is extremely distasteful. It is also dishonest. Yes, we may be disappointed. We may fall flat on our face. But it’s worth the risk. Why? Because Christ makes all things new. We have reason for hope.
Get some sleep.