Food for Thought: Be Skeptical, Not Cynical

In my opinion critical thinking is a skill we should all be developing and cultivating.  This skill allows us to think deeply and creatively about important decisions and choices, and also protects us from relying to heavily (or inappropriately) on our biases and instincts.  Critical thinking is based on a mindset of skepticism, but this comes a with the risk of crossing into the darkness and becoming cynical.

Before we go further lets get on the same page with definitions

SKEPTICISM is holding a healthy level of doubt in a claim in order to focus on gathering more facts and developing a deeper understanding.

BEING CYNICAL is holding an unhealthy distrust in the influence of human nature in the actions and claims of others.

Both being skeptical and cynical share the common theme of questioning the claims and actions of others with the primary difference being the fine line between a healthy or unhealthy level of trust in the influence of human nature. Crossing the line from being skeptical into being cynical can take away the advantage of our critical thinking skills as we start to waste effort and energy on brooding and complaining about the problems we face instead of finding solutions.

We have all had a co-worker or family member who complains relentlessly about how bad everything is, and how everything is someone else’s fault.  This person likely refuses to actually do anything to fix the situation, but wants to carry the “woe-is-me” attitude into every conversation they have…. maybe this has even been you from time to time… I know it has been me.  A cynic sees challenges and starts to point fingers, searching uselessly for someone or something to blame.


On the other hand the skeptic sees a challenge and looks for opportunities to learn, grow, and achieve.  The mindset difference is subtle, but powerful.  The skeptic asks “why is it this way” instead of “who’s fault is this.”  This allows the skeptic to focus on what can be changed to make something better while the cynic wastes their time uselessly assigning blame.  The skeptic searches for answers that lead to action, taking action gets to results.  Results equal progress.

I have found that one of the symptoms of being cynical is an over use of sarcasm and irony.  There is a lot of risk trying to making everything ironic, even if you are genuinely trying to be funny.  Sarcasm in social settings can be healthy and fun… but when it bleeds over into your work and your relationships you are in trouble.  My point here is that people don’t appreciate it when you try to make everything ironic or if you come across as holding everyone and everything in some degree of contempt.  It shows that you are cynical, and consciously or sub-consciously, other people will push you away because your cynical words and actions are wasting their time and energy.

Being skeptical is often displayed with the ability to moderate emotions and control conflict in decision making.  If you are skeptical about something you will likely still make the effort to understand and adjust your thinking and perspective based on the facts and circumstances you discover.  This leaves you open to growth and success.. which is the position we want to be in.

What do you think?  Have you battled with walking the line between being skeptical and cynical?  I would love to hear from you.  Come on over to our closed facebook discussion group to share your insights.  Or you can email me directly at  You can also sign up to receive The Friday Huddle, a short weekly email from me that gives you the tips, insights, and musings that have gotten me through the week.

Live Skillfully!


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