When Conan O’Brien signed off as host of the Tonight Show for the last time, he gave a somber farewell speech. What was striking was that he warned against cynicism. He noted how easy it would have been to become a cynic in his situation, but he refused to give in. It seems ironic, doesn’t it? aren’t comics supposed to be cynics? Of course, it’s easy to understand O’Brien’s aversion to cynicism. There’s something overtly negative and unattractive about it. Still, as much as we may rather avoid the label of “cynic,” could it be that we are already on track for it?
Lately I’ve been thinking about cynicism; wondering, pondering. It began with a startling trend i had noticed in my own life. As I thought about what could be the source, I started looking at other people who had the same “knack” as i did and could faintly see glimmers of the same disease…I don’t like being a cynic, so how did it get its start? The answer came simply enough: sarcasm and satire.
Maybe this is just a “theory,” but I think it’s a potent one. Consider this: sarcasm has always been a natural bent of mine. Granted, I haven’t always been as mean with sarcasm, but in recent years it’s seemed I’ve honed the trait a little. I’m trying not to. I hate biting sarcasm almost as much as I hate cynicism. But there’s something funny about sarcasm. Of course, there’s nothing funny about it to the person who has set up your sarcastic remark, but to everyone else it’s a great comfort. It makes us feel a little less stupid.
Now in the course of my sarcastic growth, I’ve come to learn the art of satire. It’s a great and helpful art for a writer. It allows you to draw a laugh and even make a person think about himself or his actions or habits. It can be a great tool. But it opens the door for cynicism I believe. I’ve been slightly satirical with facebook ever since I started an account 2 years ago. Now i’m practically cynical to all things facebook.
Sadly, this same attitude is starting to carry over into every aspect of life. Sometimes I find myself not only cynical of facebook, but even the church, Christians, and humanity in general. Within the context of the church this is a bad trait to have. It is more divisive than unitive. If I’m going to be cynical all the time about this-or-that ministry or this-or-that sketch or whatever, I’m doing more harm than good. Sure, an outside-the-box view is of necessity, but have I abandoned constructive criticism for provoking a laugh and making fun of the system?
Like I said, this doesn’t seem to be my problem either. Mark Twain was a great satirist, but he seemed to grow more cynical with old age. Other sarcastic people I know or have read from seem to have gone from the constructive side of satire and sarcasm to the more hateful side of cynicism. It also seems as if culture in general is becoming more cynical. Hasn’t sarcasm been a laudable trait in recent years? Now what are we getting? A pack of cynics? Great. Why even this past Sunday in the papers I read a list of movies coming out this summer with a respective blurb of each title. Nearly every description was sarcastic and cynical.
So what are we to do about this? I have no idea. For Christians, a prayer to the Holy Spirit for a little more tongue-control should be in order. The tongue (and pen) can be powerful little weapons. We must be sure we use them properly.
“Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”-James 3:5-6 (i’d suggest reading the context of the passage)