Friday, December 16, 2011

It's Good to be Cynical

During childhood we learn many things, including what behavior is acceptable and how to tell what facts are "true."

We accept without question information from authority figures which are reliable -- parents, teachers and youth leaders. These folks are dependable. They tell us to wear a coat on cold days, to sit up straight and to tell the truth. They also help instill the basics of fear: don't run with scissors, don't ride with strangers, don't consume cleansers kept under the sink or pick a playground fight with someone bigger than you.

We soon begin to accept what we are told. Few six-year-olds challenge instruction when told to look both ways before crossing the street. Challenges which occur are usually short-lived. We may feel that adults are unfairly restricting our individual freedom. But there are certain people we should believe.

Unfortunately, a pattern of acceptance becomes second nature and many of us forget how to question what we hear. We become so used to accepting data at face value that we do not question news stories, gossip or blatant misrepresentations that occur. We lose our selective "gut" instinct and accept falsehoods along with truths.

Perhaps you have come to believe that imported knives shown in an infomercial are really guaranteed for life. You want to believe that friends who share remarks made behind your back are sharing that information for your best interest. You might even believe everything your doctor or your government says. If this sounds familiar, you need to dust off your cynicism.

Once upon a time being called a cynic was a sign of weakness. Reasonable people thought as one. That behavior got us through tough times, wars and the Depression. We were supposed to pull together.

Then our world changed. National and world leaders were assassinated. A U.S. president resigned office during his second term. Our social structure began to weaken. It was the dawn of widespread cynicism. Even today some people question every facet of modern life.

Cynicism in moderation is healthy. Parents should encourage their children to question things. They should be willing to help children think on their own. It's a practice that will serve them well as they become independent citizens.

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