To a Cynical Friend…


Words that build or destroy.

Nothing new happens, but it happens to me, and that’s new.


You can be a cynic. It’s been done. You aren’t original when you decide that other human beings deserve whatever suffering they pull down on their own heads, like kids trying to get the food on the table by yanking on the table cloth. They did it to themselves. They had it coming.

You can decide that everyone is corrupt, everyone wants power, every promise is a manipulation and every kiss a ploy or a maneuver.

You’ll be right some of the time. People suck. A great number of people. For different reasons, I think, but their reasons don’t really matter if you’re going the cynical route. If they all suck rocks and you prefer to preempt—if you already know they have WMD’s and thus you have the whole war justified and plotted out—then their little stories of who violated them make no difference. In a sense, this is belief in original sin: people start out as violators rather than react to being violated.

But we disagree on this point: not everyone sucks. Some people are really pretty good. Probably a few people are great. I won’t argue numbers or percentages.

But we disagree on a bigger point, and this, I think, is the crux of our world view collision: people can get better. They can improve. I don’t mean they can polish their manners and learn to hide their motives. I believe in redemption.

We–not you and I, I mean humanity–have no common ground to build on if people cannot transform.  If people are intrinsically not merely flawed but warped, permanently and irreversibly, out for themselves and nothing else, then redemption makes no sense.

I see two possibilities for you if you hold to this cold, hard cynicism. In the first, you recognize this same darkness in yourself. You know what humankind is because you are of humankind and you see no good in you. You’ve looked. It’s missing. If everything is darkness and our eyes are adjusted, there’s no chance you would have missed the spark. That spark would have dazzled your eyes. You looked in you. You looked in others. You found no spark because no spark exists. We are darkness. We are loveless. We are.

Truthfully, I respect you more if you believe this, much as I respect (though utterly disagree with) those women who wear head coverings, refrain from jewelry, and remain absolutely silent in church, or the men who won’t wear clothes made of two types of thread and who give one another holy kisses because those are the instructions. Yes, you are a blind literalist, but you seek to live consistently, rather than picking and choosing your favorites.

The second possibility is much more common, in my experience: You believe you are the exception. You see with clear, undistorted eyes. You probably don’t say explicitly, “I’m the only one with a functioning heart.” You may not admit that you hold yourself as the unfallen among the soul cannibals. But in practice, if other people were like you…

You are picking and choosing, like that fundamentalist who uses proof-texts to argue how Jesus himself backs every prejudice, comfort and preference. You are scoring their ugliness through a microscope and your own through a blast helmet. And you cherry-pick. Of course there are people to whom you can point and say, “I don’t do that!” If I score everyone else’s actions giving no benefit of the doubt, no grace, but I excuse my own foibles because I know the mitigating circumstances, I can believe my own scoreboard. It makes total sense to me.

But in that case, I’m full of it.

I guess that’s what I’m saying. You’re full of it.

What do you believe about yourself? What do you believe about God? What do you believe about the child who pull’s his sister’s hair? What do you believe about the child whose uncle “visits” her every night?

If you truly believe you are superior, it’s because you are giving yourself the benefit of the doubt, allowing for all the reasons (not “excuses” when they’re yours) that play into your own imperfections. Are you sure you can’t offer that same generous measuring stick to others?

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