Thursday, June 2, 2016

Response to Maria Popova Cautionary Essay regarding a Culture of Cynicism

Maria Popova essay, Some Thoughts on Hope, Cynicism, and the Stories We Tell Ourselves, places cynicism on the polar side of Hope. This identified kind of raw cynicism is “that terrible habit of mind and orientation of spirit in which, out of hopelessness for our own situation, we grow
embittered about how things are and about what’s possible in the world. [Hence this sort of] Cynicism is a poverty of curiosity and imagination and ambition. . . In its passivity and resignation, cynicism is a hardening, a calcification of the soul. Hope [on the other hand] is a stretching of its ligaments, a limber reach for something greater.”

She advises,
Today, the soul is in dire need of stewardship and protection from cynicism. The best defense against it is vigorous, intelligent, sincere hope — not blind optimism, because that too is a form of resignation, to believe that everything will work out just fine [or other sentimental blah, blah, blah] and we need not apply ourselves. I mean hope bolstered by critical thinking that is clear-headed in identifying what is lacking, in ourselves or the world, but then envisions ways to create it and endeavors to do that.

Popova’s notion of critical thinking resonates with my conception of gentle cynicism, which sees dark cynicism always lurking in the background seeking to make ground in some way, while in front of me is hope (I am thinking here of the theory of hope and its landscape). Gentle Cynicism seeks to hold the polar sides in tension via various practices that allow one to engage in clear-headed critical thinking, goals, and pathways that envision ways to create and endeavor to do something that contributes to human flourishing (eudaimonia) spured by the complex notion of hope.