It’s been a longstanding tradition of mine to write something nasty about Valentine’s Day every February. I’ve targeted its excessive commercialism, its bastardization of history (it was once a religious celebration after all) and even conventional notions of romantic love itself. This year, I’m going to try something different. I am going to be nice.
Valentine’s Day is laudable, if for no other reason than it brings out the cynics in many of us. We single folk especially tire of the pervasive – not to mention sappy – sentimentality and the endless giving of candy, cards and flowers.
We snicker as love struck fools empty their pockets and we salivate at the amount of money companies such as Hallmark and Russell Stover must make. In short, we (the single, the jilted, the lonely) really put a damper on things and that alone is cause for celebration.
As a year-round cynic, it troubles me that the virtues of cynicism are often overlooked. Its destructive aspects are harped on incessantly, but little is said about its ability to inspire, create and promote.
The truth is that we owe much of our understanding of the world to “negative thinkers,” such as Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schopenhauer. Even when ultimately disproved, their ideas challenged conventional wisdom and opened the door for further inquiry and exploration.
Perhaps the biggest virtue of cynicism is its ability to overcome disappointment.
As cynics have little to no faith in humanity, they expect things to constantly go wrong. When this does happen, they are not devastated by it because their expectations were so low from the start. In the event something goes right for a change, the cynic is pleasantly surprised.
Cynicism also promotes determination and good work habits. Whereas optimists expect to succeed by default, negative thinkers expect not to succeed. As a result, they must labor twice as hard to overcome those expectations and achieve their goals. This ensures that cynics always give their best possible effort and never become complacent.
Lastly, cynicism allows for greater knowledge and personal freedom. Because cynics are doubtful of human sincerity, they tend to examine ideas and institutions with a higher degree of skepticism than most. This enables them to see things that more trusting members of society usually miss.
Furthermore, inasmuch as cynics are doubters and naysayers, they are virtually immune from the pitfalls of peer pressure and groupthink. If cynics were running the country, most of the bad policies of the past century would have never come into being because said ideas would have been dismissed beforehand.
Harkening back to Valentine’s Day, even those who doubt its sincerity and tire of its faux rosy specter may find themselves hesitant to denounce it. After all, it is supposed to be a joyous occasion, even when there is no real joy to be felt.
Those who are hesitant may find all the courage they need by simply embracing their inner cynics. Denounce, decry and defame. It is your right to find fault with anything you wish and let no one tell you otherwise.