Crossing the line into cynicism

Discernment is a good thing. Christians, especially, should be cultivating their discernment. We need to understand when people can have bad motives, and warn against what they are doing. We need to understand when something that seems harmless now can be exploited and abused later. The Apostle Paul did this in Scripture, writing against the false teachers of his day.

But we should avoid the temptation to be cynical. A friend once told me that cynicism is discernment without love. We must be aware of the temptation to be cynical, and understand when we are “discerning” without love. To be sure, we will often be falsely accused of cynicism when we are practicing righteous discernment, but the fact that we were discerning yesterday does not mean we are not cynical today.

In fact, cynicism is the defining feature of our politics today. When we dislike someone, we are quick to jump to the worst possible conclusion about something that person said or did. This is most common on Twitter, where a micro-blog of 280 characters can easily be misunderstood. (Prior to 2017, it was 140 characters.) But video clips make it easy for people to take a poorly articulated statement totally out of context and make it seem much worse. But do we really want to live in a world like that?

Every single person in the history of the universe has said something offensive or foolish. Every single person in the history of the universe has poorly articulated something that ought to be easy to explain. Every single person in the history of the universe has forgotten something under pressure, despite the fact that he or she could easily rattle it off in the past, and has done so outside of a high-pressure situation. This does not mean that person is racist or malicious or stupid or ignorant. It means they are human beings.

If we want our politics to be better, and if we want our culture to be less corrosive and divisive, it has to start with each one of us. This means if there is more than one interpretation for what someone said or wrote, we should take the most charitable interpretation. We become upset when others do not do that for us, so what right do we have to not do the same for others – even political opponents?