How Do You Kill The Cynicism Inside You?

Can Curiosity Kill Cynicism

Is any part of you growing cynical?

I think you know what I mean.

I have to:

Fight the ‘been there” “done that” and “I can explain that in ten seconds if you let me” tendency that comes with having lived a while.

Battle the “I don’t think I’m going to trust anyone again” impulse after feeling burned.

Work at staying hopeful when I see some people make the same mistake over and over again.

Can you relate?

Cynicism is simply the general distrust of others or a lack of hope in people or their desires. At it’s worst, it becomes jaded negativity, skepticism, contempt or scorn.

The number of cynics around me amazes me and discourages me. Cynics never change the world. Instead, they tell you how they know why the world can’t change.

And yet most people as they live a little find themselves fighting cynicism.

So how do you battle it?

I wonder if there is a link between cynicism and curiosity.

Ever notice:

Cynical people are rarely curious (they already know the answer, and it’s not good by the way).

Curious people are almost never cynical.

Some of my favourite people are the relentlessly curious.

The ones who:

Never stop learning

Ask great questions

Are interested in others and in new experiences

Don’t settle for standard answers

Push the boundaries

Smile when no one else does

Believe when most people don’t

Widen their universe when everyone else is narrowing theirs

The curious do these things.

I’ve decided (maybe because another birthday is coming up) that I want to become more curious, not less curious (which seems to be the normal pattern) as I get older.

I just might help battle that nascent cynicism that always threatens to buy more real estate.

So how do you become more curious?

I’d love to figure this out. But here are some ideas to get you and I started:

Schedule thinking time. Business is the enemy of wonder, among other things. You can’t wonder when you’re in a hurry.

Click. When I read my twitter or Facebook feed, I find if I click on the links and notes in other people’s lives, I grow more curious. Particularly if they are not like me.

Ask more questions. Great leaders ask questions even more than they give answers. And people who ask questions are just more fun to be around, aren’t they?

Ask open ended questions. This Fast Company article on asking open ended question is brilliant (and challenging).

Give fewer answers. I have to check the tendency inside me to want certainty on everything. Giving fewer answers in every day conversation can help.

Say I don’t know. Because often it’s way more true than we admit anyway. And saying “I don’t know” can lead us to a better answer than we would have come up with on our own.

Say Yes. The demands of my life mean that ‘no’ has become a default answer (or more accurately, “I’d love to, but I’m afraid I can’t”). While I’m a firm believer in saying no, everyone once in a while, say yes. Go to the party. Accept the invite. While chronically saying yes can lead to a lack of purpose and a lack of focus in life, saying it every once in a while to new and interesting things can be good.

Wonder. Kids wonder. Adults stop wondering. Reverse the trend.

Stop taking things for granted. Gratitude can make you more open–to everything.

Ask why. Challenge assumptions!

Ask why not? Why not, after all?

Try to find connections between random things. I’m not scientific enough to know why this is important, but there is a link between many things. Somehow it’s all connected.

Read outside of your area. You can do this in a big way (buy a book on astronomy, for example), or casually. I use content-aggregating apps like Flipboard and Zite to help me read things I would never otherwise read.

Lose your fear. What’s the worst that could happen? Right, you could die. Which you’re not supposed to fear that much anyway.

Dream. You used to. Why stop now?

Get around some kids. They still believe. And might inspire you to do the same.

What do you think? Can curiosity help stop cynicism?

What are some ways you have learned to be more curious?


  1. Anny Martinez on August 17, 2019 at 7:00 am

    This article is all the more relevant in these times. Recently, reading about the Semai community’s nonviolent way of life and agree nurture plays a grand factor. This is why it is most heartbreaking when we encounter children whom are already cynical. Even more crucial is the idea that many parents believe it is necessary for their children to be prepared for the cruel world we live in. To Elise’s great question, how thin of a line is that distinction? -Hope the latter. Nonetheless, I. do believe the distinguishing factors are that a Cynic knows all, has a loss of faith in all humanity vs. a Critic is cautions, questions with an open-mind. Truly brilliant article.. thank you!

  2. Fluent Sea Design on April 11, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    at BEST it becomes skepticism.
    Skepticism is a much better thing to experience than cynicism.

  3. Gary Olson on June 25, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    I am what many people would call a non-believer, but I reject that label. Be that as it may, I found your comments about the toxic nature of cynicism spot on. I recently lost an old acquaintance who die from a completely treatable form of cancer in his eye simply due to his mistrust of ALL doctors! He was a cynic to the core. Thanks so much for your positive life-affirming perspective on this all-too-common attitude.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 26, 2015 at 9:01 am

      Thanks Gary. That’s so encouraging. Keep hoping.

  4. Kashif Ansari on November 18, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    yes you are so right. cynicism is the only sin and it is icky as well. when as an adult we all get caught up in the pretension syndrome there is havoc and chaos that builds up in the personality. the only solution to the dullness of adulthood is a childlike sense of wonder that emancipates the soul to search for earthiness and beautiful little experiences that are physically so satisfying that the leave you saying “gee whiz”. you have to really get down in the dirt and play the game of life like a child who knew all about the life of games. never be old in the mind for it leads straight to the trap of mental illness. in the child’s universe lies all art and science and mysticism. it is the holiest of holies and is the fountainhead of purity and innocence and extreme fun. to hell with all the boring diets and painful exercises and formal stiff silent strong personalities of the world. one has to follow one’s own unique path with a heart and soul and never forget to brutally self-question oneself about everything till the point where the conscience is a gemstone cut into a thousand scintillating facets that shine with resplendence reflecting the glory of the great thing that is childhood. never forget your childhood. cherish it and let your inner child through. for he or she will work wonders for your creative life.

  5. Dane Gressett on September 3, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Thanks, Carey. Missed this post originally, but got linked over here in your post today. Forgive me if my comments will take the post into a bit of a different direction (than the curiosity focus). But I think it relates.

    Cynicism is loss of expectation of change and improvement and future blessedness. It’s the mindset that what I’m doing doesn’t change things and therefore I’m not making a difference…thus, it’s a waste…and so I get jaded.

    But what I am freshly seeing in the NT these days is the HUGE future orientation of ALL the NT writers. They even interpreted the hard stuff they were all facing as necessary birthpangs, that pointed to the return of the Lord. And when He comes, they were sure that they would be richly rewarded and would share in His undiminished, unshielded universal glory! Over and over we read the NT writers telling people to “arm themselves with this purpose” (that suffering precedes glory), to “fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” etc.

    So we read things like: “do not be weary in well doing…” And why? Because God will certainly reward you in the last day! Because God is “not unjust so as to forget your work and love shown to the saints…” Because Jesus said that even “a cup of water” given in His name will be rewarded in the last day.

    Jesus overcame the shame and suffering of His cross, by looking ahead to the glory the Father promised Him.

    Seems like we have become so focused on temporary, perishing alternatives…to prop up our hope and displace our cynicism. Certainly we all need to see some fruit now! But we also all need to be a bit more heavenly minded if we are to remain of any earthly good.

  6. Doug Wilson on August 19, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Studies have concluded that curiosity can add years to your life. Thanks for this Carey. Just completed a presentation on curiosity but didn’t make the link to cynicism. My presentation just got better.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 19, 2013 at 8:33 am

      Love hearing that Doug. If you have any links (to your presentation or the article) feel free to share here in the comments. I’d love to see them.

  7. Brent Dumler on March 25, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Wonderful info! The over-all message I noticed is simply having a teachable spirit. And if we take that and direct our proximity toward individuals who just ooze positivity. Because over time we will learn from them what keeps them so positive.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 27, 2013 at 9:36 am

      You are so right Brent. Positive people are huge. I need as many as I can get in my life. And I have a good friend who will intentionally distance himself from negative people. He’s actually one of the most positive people I know. Interesting.

  8. Elisa Laird on March 20, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    I love this. One question popped into my head: What’s the difference between being cynical and being cautious and how do you distinguish between the two?

  9. cnieuwhof on March 19, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Some great insights in these comments. Thank you! I love the angle on an unchurched person’s response to church people’s fascination with answers. I think answers close down conversations, and I’ve been guilty of that. Funny how the kids theme is resonating. Awesome! And Angel sorry about the comment deletion. Not sure what happened.

  10. Mary Hewlett on March 19, 2013 at 10:45 am

    FANTASTIC post Carey !!
    Last year, I too found myself growing weary of “the lack of hope in people…”, and I was also becoming assimilated into that thought process as well.
    Then, having an epiphany that clearly said to me “time to give back”, I found myself on a plane heading for Nepal, to work in an orphanage for a month. Now if that doesn’t incorporate EVERYTHING you just mentioned…curiosity, innocence, trust, positivity and ‘HOPE’, which is all these children have. There is absolutely not one speck of skepticism, contempt or scorn. When you see innocence, wonderment and pure joy through a child’s eyes…a child who has absolutely NOTHING, it tends to make u shed any trace of ‘negativity’ on your life’s path.
    There are times in life your spirit is just soooo awake, and this ‘awakening’ makes you realize just how sweeeeeet life really is. That journey was one of these times.
    As Ghandi once said “the best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service to others”. 🙂

  11. anthony ward on March 18, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Great insight. Having not been raised in church, I have lots of questions about everything. It’s amazing how many people assume the answers without having ever asked themselves.

  12. Haupi Tombing on March 18, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Great post, Carey. “Been there, Done that” as you said, is truly an innovation and creative thinking killer. Very glad Thomas Edison didn’t say “Been there, done that!”

  13. Angel on March 18, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Hey Carey–I tried to post earlier and think I lost it–sorry if this is a repeat. I LOVED this article–thank you for posting it. I wish I could say I was going to pass this on to others, but I am soooo guilty of being cynical that I think it was written just for me.
    I know for me, expectations play a lot into cynicism–when I don’t get the outcome I expect, I get jaded. I think what I love about the concept of curiosity being the cure, is that is suggests a humbleness. Kids don’t care what you think of them when they ask crazy questions. My favorite thing to do is to sit in on a small group of young elementary kids (1st grade is always a fun one) and listen to them–you are right–they do still believe–unless we squelch their ideas with hard core reality.
    Maybe I need to start watching some episodes of “Curious George”

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