Falling for scams can be disappointing and embarrassing. This past fortnight has seen two high profile people exposed as being fakes. Pauline Hanson was embarrassed to find that she did not in fact have a witness in court for her electoral challenge, and many people were disappointed to hear that the young woman in Damascus was actually a male PhD student. It’s embarrassing and disappointing to find we’ve put our trust in something that turned out to be a fake.
It’s wise to be sceptical until solid evidence is gathered. One of Jesus’ disciples demonstrated such scepticism, and his refusal to believe without evidence has entered our vernacular. Jesus was happy to provide ‘doubting Thomas’ with evidence, and in no way admonished such scepticism.
But cynicism is altogether different. A sceptic tests evidence and is willing to have their view altered by that evidence. A cynic on the other hand is distrustful – evidence will not change their view. Their negative experiences leave them with no willingness for trust. The sceptic is pleasantly surprised by the honesty of a politician, a cynic dismisses such honesty as an aberration and persists in waiting for corruption.
The TV show The West Wing explored life behind the scenes in the fictional Bartlet White House. It followed the President and his staffers as they dealt with the daily political machinations which constantly pushed them beyond scepticism into cynicism. Vice President Bob Russell at one point says “Speechwriters need to have a tendency to doubt and a capacity to believe.” In essence they have to be sceptics - not cynics.
Cynicism can blunt joy and robs us of hope. It looks for failure in others and feeds off disappointment. Scepticism is important. It ensures that the things in which we put our hope are well founded.