let’s be cynical

15 Jul

Last week in ‘The Guardian’ (Thursday July 11, 2013) the philosopher Julian Baggini celebrated the virtues of maintaining a healthy cynicism. At the same time he had a swipe at those peddlers of ‘sun-kissed fantasies’, the gurus of positive thinking. At its best, Baggini argues, cynicism is a greater force for progress than optimism. Why should we mindlessly try to convince ourselves that the world and everything in it are wonderful, when clearly they aren’t. That’s hardly rational, and isn’t going to promote worthwhile change. ‘We can’t make things better unless we see quite how bad they are, or do our best unless we guard against the worst.’

I agree with Baggini almost entirely. But I have just one reservation.  While it’s right to maintain a critical attitude towards institutions, groups and ideas in the world at large, perhaps we can be a little kinder towards the individuals with whom we come into personal contact (including perhaps ourselves). Being tolerant and forgiving as well as critical seems like another good rule for a healthy and intelligent approach to life.

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