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mattbrowne's avatar

Negative evaluation of past experiences - Why do people get sometimes trapped in cynicism and despair?

Asked by mattbrowne (31463 points ) May 19th, 2009

By common definition, cynicism is the belief that people do things only because of self-interest rather than virtue. Another definition for someone “cynical” is that of someone who will not care about things that harm others as long as they benefit the cynic. Modern cynicism, as a product of mass society, is a distrust toward ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions and authorities which are unfulfilled. Cynicism can manifest itself by frustration, disillusionment and distrust in regard to organizations, authorities and other aspects of society, and can result from a negative evaluation of past experiences.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynicism

Even if past experiences seem rather negative at first, the positive part is being able to learn something. While some people handle it this way, other find that very hard. Some even feel trapped. What are the reasons? Genes (happy nature vs sourpuss)? Upbringing?

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12 Answers

DarkScribe's avatar

With regard to despair, it is for the same reason that all traps work – the person trapped can’t find a way out. It isn’t always easy, and it can be very hard without support.

There is no such thing as “modern” cynicism, any more that there is modern anger or grief. You are seeing things that aren’t there, playing games with semantics. People can feel despair and express it in many ways, cynicism being just one. You don’t get trapped in cynicism. I trust very little in modern society on a “general” level, but I am not in any way trapped I am simply reacting in a logical manner to observation and experience.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

You know I consider myself a cynic but that definition doesn’t fit, much…I do have distrust of others but it’s always right on the money

RedPowerLady's avatar

Perhaps because results of the past are often still present today. It isn’t so much relying on past experience as much as it is being pissed about how the past has yet to be resolved so they can move forward. Coming from a social service/psychological viewpoint. Many people are cynical and can’t move forward until their past is healed. Probably about half of it is trapping oneself in the cycle of cynicism and despair and we can work on that but I would offer up that the other half is circumstances outside our control (and for many people those circumstances are extreme that their cynicism and despair seem quite valid).

A great example would be what @Simone_De_Beauvoir said. She distrusts others but they, in fact, are untrustworthy. So her experience isn’t ruled entirely on the past but on the fact that the problem has yet to be solved, people are quite often not trustworthy.

Of course for many people this takes on a much larger role if we are talking about something such as oppression.

Do you have any specific examples to illustrate your point?

tinyfaery's avatar

Neural pathways that have developed over years, sometimes decades. Habits are hard to break for a reason.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I personally know only one person who might fit this mold but they have good reason (experiences) for their fears, despair and cynicism, they are aware they restrict themselves and the rest of us respect their choice of behavior. Sometimes things are exactly what they are.

Jack_Haas's avatar

I would say isolation. People become cynical and desperate when their environment doesn’t give them reasons to be optimistic. As a result it seems to me that most people isolate themselves instead of trying to expand or change their environment. They either regroup with like minded people (who will comfort their views rather than challenge them) or just stop trying to socialize.with anyone.

mattbrowne's avatar

@RedPowerLady – Well, one example is being desperate about the future of our planet. Corporate greed will destroy everything. Our jobs are going to Asia. We can’t do much about climate change anyway. The majority of people doesn’t care about the environment. Why bother? We’re going downhill. And so forth.

Maybe it has to do with the media focusing on negative news rather than progress. Many people seem unaware for example that civil society has far more power than many of our politicians or CEOs. There’s a lot of hope, but some people don’t get the the feeling. There’s a wonderful book by Paul Hawken (I listened to the audio book version of it during my daily commutes) called ‘Blessed Unrest’.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blessed_Unrest

Paul Hawken argues that civil society has the potential to heal the planet!

RedPowerLady's avatar

@mattbrowne I agree that we have the power and potential to save the planet.

I did not realize you were talking about cynicism on such a large community-based scale.

I think you are right in that people remain cynical because they do not see progress. I also think it has to do with the chain of needs. The fact that humans have to meet basic survival needs before they are able to function adequately on higher levels. So without basic healthcare for example someone just may not be able to focus on creating change so they appear cynical as a means of justification. Also I would say that people have been stripped of their feeling of empowerment and community-orientation. Part of this I believe is because our society has become too individualistic.

lillycoyote's avatar

A cynic is an idealist who has been disappointed too often by the behavior of his/her fellow humans whether acting as individuals or in groups, or an idealist who has perhaps been disappointed to often in his or her own behavior. It is my nature to be cynical but I fight it very hard because I think it is self-indulgent and somewhat cowardly to allow oneself to succumb to cynicism and despair regarding the world. If you do that, you become useless in terms of helping to work toward solutions, and thereby become part of the problem. I’m not saying it’s always easy to fight the cynicism and despair. Taken as a whole, the worlds myriad problems seem interminable and insurmountable sometimes but in order to solve the world’s problems we need everybody to at least believe that the worlds problems can be solved. There can often be a fine line between acknowledging the negative aspects of the world and becoming overwhelmed by them.

mattbrowne's avatar

@lillycoyote – Thanks for sharing your insight!

@RedPowerLady – Therefore it’s so important that we all (and the media) talk about the progress as well. It’s especially important when you are a parent. Nothing could be worse than telling children that we’re all doomed anyway.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@mattbrowne I whole-heartedly agree.

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