One of the first questions to consider is this: Are cynics born that way or are their worldviews shaped by outside forces? Well, both really. Research seems to indicate that some people are genetically predisposed to a cynical outlook. People with an “inborn tendency toward depressive disorders are at increased risk of developing a cynical outlook” (Svoboda, Elizabeth, A Field Guide to the Cynic, Psychology Today, 11/06). But Svoboda further cites study by UC-Irvine personality researcher Salvatore Maddi, who claims cynics are generally made rather than born…
“According to Maddi,” Svoboda writes, “the first seeds of cynicism are often planted when people put in effort to achieve a goal like snagging a promotion at work or raising a self-sufficient child – and then see their hopes dashed.”
This “disconnect between expectation and reality” plants the seeds for a feeling of helplessness and, taken further and with additional disappointments, prompts “the emergence of a hallmark of the cynical personality: the sense that nothing anyone does in life really matters.”
To be fair to our more cynical brethren, research does seem to indicate that cynicism has a shielding effect against disappointment (“expect the worst, you won’t be disappointed”) and being taken in by those who would mean you harm (“just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean no one is out to get you”). That is, if it’s “healthy” cynicism, narrowly applied. Take it too far, however, and any benefits reaped will be overshadowed by potential peril; besides the emotional impact of depression and, in some cases, the emergence of self-destructive behaviors, there is some indication cynics are much more prone to physical ailments.
We will be looking more deeply at cynicism, depression, and how cops can find balance between a “healthy” dose and an “overdose.” In the meantime, never lose sight of these simple truths:
- Millions of boys have gone through the Boy Scouts, guided and mentored by tens of thousands of upstanding and well-intentioned adult Boy Scout Leaders, with no ill effects;
- Almost every single postal worker in America – disgruntled or otherwise – will somehow manage to make it through their careers without committing even a single little episode of workplace carnage;
- Despite the appalling, high-profile exceptions, most examples of clergy abuse of minors are similar to appalling, high-profile police misconduct cases where bad behavior gets most of the ink while the vast majority who do only good labor in obscurity.
And even closer to home, consider the domestic violence victim we mentioned at the top of this article, and realize that for some of these victims, perseverance pays off. Eventually they will make the changes they need. That is the knowledge that keeps the officer grounded despite the cynicism.
Until then, stay safe! And stay grounded.
About The Authors:
Althea Olson, LCSW has been in private practice in the Chicago suburbs since 1996. She has a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University providing individual, couple, & group therapy to adolescents, adults, and geriatrics. Althea is also trained in Critical Incident Stress Management & is a certified divorce mediator.
Mike Wasilewski, MSW has been with a large suburban Chicago department since 1996. He holds a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University and has served on his department’s Crisis Intervention & Domestic Violence teams. Mike is an adjunct instructor at Northwestern College.
Mike & Althea have been married since 1994 and have been featured columnists for Officer.Com since 2007. Their articles are extremely popular and they now provide the same training and information in person throughout the United States. This dynamic team was recently featured at the at the 2010 & 2011 ILEETA Conference & Exposition.
Out of their success has come the formation of More Than A Cop where the focus is providing consultation and trainings on Survival Skills Beyond The Street.