I used to think there were only three kinds of Cynics.
The Hopeless Cynic
– I’m never gonna win, I’m not going to get picked, I’m going to fail.
The Realist Cynic
– Okay, why not, but let’s not put all our cheerleaders in one van.
The Avoid Needless Effort Cynic
– If the outcome may not be favorable or there is a high probability of something terrible happening, why bother?
The Hopeless Cynic possesses so little, if any, confidence that he assumes he will never be successful in his endeavors. Whether his attitude is based on a series of past events or that he simply has never associated his actions/efforts with favorable outcomes when they did materialize, the Hopeless Cynic will unlikely (need) to change his tune. He may not even want to be reassured; he just believes that he’ll never get what he wants and his hard work will never pay off so that he may enjoy pleasant surprises when he does get what he wants.
The Realist Cynic has experienced enough instances first or secondhand of obtaining (and not obtaining) what he pursues and seeing the disconnect between working hard and getting rewarded that he is cautiously confident. He believes he is making the right choices or in the quality of his behaviors/endeavors, but he won’t assume he will get what he wants just because he’s put in the time and energy to achieve his goals. He is aware that not everything is within his control.
The Avoid Needless Effort Cynic finds it easier to have no illusions about goals or the correlation between effort and success. He does not like to take risks or gamble for fear of losing or being wrong. He may be impulsive about matters that provide instant gratification but that ultimately are of little significance. He would rather not invest the time or energy into activities that will or may involve steps or risks he is unwilling to take or address.
I know now that there is another category of Cynic….the Slow Burn Cynic.
He exhibits traits from the Hopeless, Realist, and Avoidance Cynics at various times, but what distinguishes him from the others is that he will pursue objects of desire or opportunities because his livelihood depends on it only to succumb to premature reminders of worst case scenarios regarding his hard work. He will rain on his own parade like nobody else; he chooses to see storm clouds where there currently are none, but because he knows storm clouds will appear eventually, he is unable to prolong the enjoyment of the immediate horizon that is still sunny or clear.
Applying these cynical tendencies to a real world situation, imagine there exists an opportunity to be on an NFL team for one season. The Hopeless Cynic would consider and may even accept the invitation, and then continue to think in his mind that he won’t get picked, he’ll drop the ball, he’ll kick wide-right, etc. But he’ll show up for auditions, practices, whatever is asked of him. The Realist Cynic would consider the pros and cons of accepting and, if deciding in the affirmative, will show up for auditions, practices, but take all praise with a grain of salt. He may even take inventory of the other guys competing for the same spot. He won’t brag until he’s earned those rights.
The Avoid Needless Effort Cynic will not accept. Since he does not wish to risk injury or humiliation, he sees no point in accepting and putting himself in a situation where there is any possibility of pain or shame.
The Slow Burn Cynic will accept. He will excel, he will be selected, praised–all in the face of inner doubt or uncertainty–and make it to the crucial conference or division championship game. Then, in the bottom of the third quarter be frazzled by fatalistic insecurity, and though he may not bench himself or do anything that would be considered “self-sabotage,” he doesn’t exactly keep quiet regarding this “about face.” He’ll probably play just fine but by voicing his realization that there’s a disturbance in the force, the offensive coach isn’t sure what to do. Now, let’s say the offensive coach is an Avoid Needless Effort Cynic. Faced with the Slow Burn Cynic’s third quarter demeanor, the coach can’t help but think, “So why do all of this if you knew you’d be this way? Why put in all that effort in auditioning, playing, and risking injury if you knew this doubt would emerge? Why do you assume that this game will be like all the others you’ve played for other teams or other leagues? Can’t you just play through this game and then determine if you want to return next season…even if we don’t make it to the Super Bowl?”
Though both the Avoidance Cynic and Slow Burn Cynic attribute an amount of realism to their outlooks, the former will not imagine storm clouds where there aren’t any. Yes, hurricane or tornado season will eventually cycle in, but why not just bring an umbrella every day? Just because you know there’s going to be a tornado season, don’t let that stop you from relishing non-tornado season. And when you push an Avoidance Cynic to “action,” he would rather just not go anywhere. Why keep going towards the horizon and get closer to certainty of storms, right?
What kind of Cynic are you? What kinds of Cynics have you encountered? I am definitely an Avoidance Cynic.