General Question

wundayatta's avatar

How did you become cynical and/or skeptical?

Asked by wundayatta (58599points) December 16th, 2010

Any scientist wants evidence before they are willing to draw connections or make predictions. Skepticism is a wonderful and necessary thing in my opinion. But where does it come from? In particular, where does yours come from? How did you learn to be cynical and skeptical?

This question applies only to those who are cynical and/or skeptical, of course. If you are not cynical or skeptical, you might reflect on why not.

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28 Answers

seazen's avatar


Actually I think a bit differently than most on this topic: I think we are born cynical, and become more and more as we get older. But we can fight to reverse the effect. It helps if you are healthy and wealthy. But there are cheery, naive and happy homeless people, and skeptical, nay, mean and cynical, millionaires. N’est ce pas?

MissAnthrope's avatar

I look back at my younger self, and I was so naively optimistic! My idealistic, optimistic illusions were shattered one by one as life handed me one pile of shit after another. I was mistreated by people in ways I hadn’t even realized were possible. Dreams didn’t come true. In fact, my biggest dream was ripped away from me unfairly. Gradually, my eyes were opened and I realized that some people are simply luckier than others. Other people are better equipped. And also, the biggest lesson was learning that thinking I could get or do anything I set my mind to.. it’s not always true.

crisw's avatar

First of all, skepticism and cynicism are two very different things. One can be a skeptic- looking for evidence for any claim- without being a cynic- a person who always looks to criticize, who looks for the negative in anything.

As for me- it probably started with Santa Claus and Noah’s Ark- two things that I realized as a child were fantasies. So then I wanted to know what else was fantasy and what was real. And logic is the only reliable tool that we have for knowing what is real or true- the logic of the scientific method, the logic of philosophical argument.

This was helped along by my love of speech and debate and my prodigious reading.

Then I hit college, and my best college friend was an inveterate skeptic. We discussed lots of contentious issues- he helped me flesh out my positions on issues such as animal rights, and he was always a sounding board. To this day he is the quickest person I know to call bullshit bullshit :>)

And, as I have lived, I have seen that skepticism along with logic is really the only sensible way to handle the world in a consistent and coherent manner. I can live comfortable with the fact that I can defend what I feel to be true, and that I have reasons for what I believe.

Cruiser's avatar

When I realized how poorly my tax dollars were being managed. For years, getting a refund check assuaged any concerns I would have had of what was being done with the rest of the money it took and kept. After a while I began to notice a more than minor deficit return on investment and then looking under the hood of the Fed Government, I learned a whole new meaning of cynicism.

crisw's avatar


So you are saying you’re more a cynic than a skeptic? Does this carry over to all of your life, or only government-related matters?

Cruiser's avatar

@crisw I would have to say cynic base on my answer but I am actually an optimist and that doesn’t mean I won’t articulate predisposed, less than desire expectations when the situation merits it. I just like getting what I paid for and see nothing wrong in that!

Winters's avatar

I’ve always been cynical, I dunno, perhaps it was how I was raised, or maybe genetic disposition, but hell, I kind of like it.

Sunny2's avatar

I think you become skeptical by realizing that not everything people think makes sense. On the subject of religions: when I was 6 and a friend was 5, she told me that Jesus was in a little box on the altar at the Catholic church she attended. I KNEW Jesus could NOT fit in a little box. Over the years, after I tried out several different churches and beliefs, I decided I was an atheist . . . until someone pointed out that atheism was also based on faith. So now I have to say I’m an agnostic. That seems so wishy-washy.

Paradox's avatar

I’m a sceptical person myself but I would never classify myself as a “sceptic”. Truth seeker is a better term for me, whatever path I may find a potential truth on. I try to be sceptical of my own position as well as the positions supported by the majority/mainstream.

I became sceptical of the orthodox Christian views I was brought up with. I still believe in intelligent design but I don’t conform with any Christian or religious God. I’m not a creationist and I accept evolution. I will admit it, I march to my own beat.

I’m not sure why the term “cynic” is used the way it is today. What many people term as “cynics” should really be called pseudosceptics. There are sceptics and there are pseudosceptics. Most pseudosceptics are obscurants.

Odysseus's avatar

I would say genetics has a large part to play, some people are just gullible and others like to know how it all works.
Probably from a very early age we start to learn not to be easily duped, form “I gotcha nose” to Santa and the easter bunny. It just progresses from there. Whenever I instantly accept something that is when the alarm triggers and I need to know exactly why it was so readily accepted.

mattbrowne's avatar

I became a skeptic in high school, when I realized that some teachers make statements that turn out to be wrong.

augustlan's avatar

I’m a skeptic, but am not cynical in any way. In fact, several people have called me an idealist… kind of the opposite of cynical, yes? I say I am a realist-idealist. I see the way things are, but also the way they could/should be. I don’t see anything wrong with being clear-eyed about the former while working towards the latter.

In matters where logic and evidence come into play, being a skeptic is just sound practice. I just asked a question a few days ago about how one becomes a critical thinker (which I think is the same thing as being a skeptic, more or less, but I like the sound of ‘critical thinker’ better). My answer was basically that I feel I was born this way, and further fueled by curiosity combined with reading and life experience.

On the other hand, with people, I tend to accept them at face value, all the while knowing they may not be what they seem, but acting (and feeling) as if they are until proven otherwise. I’ve wondered about being more cynical or skeptical regarding human relationships, but I’ve never seen the up-side in that. Sure, I might get hurt or taken advantage of a time or two, but overall I think my way breeds more trust, compassion and love. I’m happy with that.

woodcutter's avatar

people lie. I think that is the foundation of it all.

iamthemob's avatar

Shouldn’t one always be skeptical?

crisw's avatar


I think so. But not cynical.

iamthemob's avatar

@crisw – Absolutely.

Anathem's avatar

My experience is that humans are not born skeptical or cynical, but acquire those traits due to (usually negative) life experiences.

Skepticism stems from the desire to not be fooled or taken advantage of. Cynism comes from the realization that through incompetence or malice, most people are self centered to the point where they will take advantage of you if you let them, even if they are not doing it intentionally.

I would say that they are obviously related, and that developing one tends to also develop the other. I would also say that skepticism is very much a good thing, and that some cynism is not necessarily bad either. A large dose of skepticism combined with a small dose of cynism helps keep a person grounded. The problem only occurs if you get cynical to the point of being bitter.

In my opinion, both traits are by products of truly seeing the world as it is and learning to accept it, which is something that many people are not brave enough to do.

noodle_poodle's avatar

I am pretty cynical I think but in an odd way. I may often think about all the possible negative sides to things but I belive this to be as important as thinking about all the positive elements and try to do both whenever possible.

In many cases although I will expect things to be terrible (family weddings, parties, getting up in the morning) I will still do them with as much effort as I can because there is always the possibility they wont be. I think that might make me a cynical optomist…or possibly a realist.

Negativity can be usefull in someways especially in preparing your self for a difficult situation or assing the risk of a situation its always better to think on the side of caution. The true optomists I have met in life seem to put themselves at risk eccessivly and often get into the trouble that could have been avoided or at least prepared for had they thought a little more about the possibility that not all of life is sunshine and farts. Sure if you want to do something then take the risk but it always pays to think a little about the possible bad outcomes so that you can at least spot them before they kick you in face and have a the chance to dodge.

noodle_poodle's avatar

oh and in my experience optomists are often ill prepared so others have to pick up the slack for their lack of forsight when things go wrong. The optomist walks out the door expecting sunshine but will take shelter under the umbrella of the skeptic who expected rain.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I agree with @crisw about the distinction even if I would classify myself as both. I am a scientist and a logical thinker – both require skepticism, imo. I am more of a cynic when people disappoint me, which happens often. I hear I have high standards for people – that stems from the fact that I believe I have a lot to offer, in return.

wundayatta's avatar

@Anathem Interesting theory. I was really hoping people would talk about their own experience and how it built up skepticism or cynicism in them.

Ladymia69's avatar

I was rather googly-eyed as a child, being raised by religious parents. As I grew into youth I began using drugs (marijuana, LSD, DXM) and rather accidentally began seeing the world in a different light as a result of what I was reading (Henry Miller, Kant, Jung, Tom Robbins, Hunter S. Thompson) and observing in people my age.

Love disappointed me from early on as it was mostly unrequited upon the ones I projected. I dropped out of highschool to run away a guy 4 years older than me whom I had met online and found a connection with. After a year, he grew disenchanted with me and sent me back to my parents. I was crushed and took it hard. I became bitter. Finding out I was pregnant 3 weeks later didn’t help. I was horrified of the idea of having a child (as I remain to this day) and arranged a private adoption. On the day of the kid’s birth, I took lots of pictures, and they didn’t come out. The bitterness impounded and I felt like life was screwing me on all fronts. I got into a relationship with an older guy who was verbally, physically and emotionally abusive. Then the next summer I was raped at knifepoint in my car.

After this, I met the man I am with today. He became a healer of sorts for me, and showed me love I didn’t know existed. The cynicism in my personality has developed later rather than right after these events. I feel that they forced me to see the world the way it really is, or was. Cynicism and skepticism is truly visceral for me. I feel like I attained this worldview through my experiences. I think that optimism is for fools, for the most part. Cynicism is just being grounded in reality.

These statements are only opinions, I am not writing anything in stone here.

wundayatta's avatar

@ladymia69 Thank you for your stories. Very powerful.

You say that cynicism is being grounded in reality. But what is reality? Is reality your history? Does your past mean that the future will always be the same? Your man is a healer. Is that reality? Would the cynical thing to believe be that men will be healers?

Or do you mean something different when you say “grounded in reality.” How does that work for you?

Ladymia69's avatar

Reality is what I see happening around me. What I see and hear about happening overseas. Reality is women in the Congo and Cameroon being raped with sticks and guns and the rapists shooting their sons and husbands. Reality is 1,000 penguins heading toward the ocean for feeding season in Antarctica and one penguin decides that the right thing to do is to head for the mountains (i.e., certain death) for some reason that i don’t know, and it breaks my heart. Reality is that one tiny plot of land nextdoor to where I live that has trees on it cannot be left alone, it has to be sold to someone who will pour concrete all over it and develop it into a business park.

These are things I can’t turn away from.

wundayatta's avatar

There sure is a lot of stuff to feel bad about. A lot of pain in the world. Do you see anything you feel more optimistic about? Or do you focus primarily on what needs to be done? Do you think that any optimism is needed?

Ladymia69's avatar

I feel optimistic about thoughtful people. I think it is more about what comforts me and what i find pleasurable as opposed to painful. Thoughtful, visionary young artists and activists make me hopeful. A perfect example of what gives me ridiculous hope would be this.

Ladymia69's avatar

Silly, I know, but in a world so messy, it’s nice to know that there are people willing to help the little ones, the ones who can’t defend themselves or speak or take up for themselves. That makes my heart warm. :)

starsignsunshine's avatar

I’ve known since the time I was able to speak in sentences that I am a natural born cynic.
People in general (with the exception of my parents) have always reacted to me strangely – in one of two ways: 1) being exceptionally rude, or 2) completely ignoring my existence. When you’re treated like that for no apparent reason, from a very young age, you can’t help but grow up with a cynical mind. I’m rather untrusting of others & can’t stand their judging eyes observing me. Suppose its better to be cynical than naïve though. Optimistic pessimism is the rational way to go!

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