Cynics: Passionate Creators in Distress

Benjamin Zander
Benjamin Zander, Conductor of the Boston Philharmonic

Rosamund Stone Zander (family therapist) and Benjamin Zander (conductor of the Boston Philharmonic) pointed something out in their book The Art of Possibility that brought me up short in my reading this morning.

“A cynic, after all, is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again.”  And “the secret is not to speak a person’s cynicism, but to speak to her passion.” 

When you see a cynic (and you may well be looking into a mirror when you see one), do you primarily see someone to avoid and criticize?  Or do you see the passionate person lurking underneath?   And which to you speak to, especially when the cynic in front of you is you?

My inner cynic has grown over the years, and I’m not happy about it.   And I know a few other cynics, some more hardened than others, and here’s what I know about them: their hearts have been broken–or worse, shattered.   But the Zanders remind me that a broken heart is one of the great beginning places for the making and sustaining of beauty and art.  Sometimes people of great passion are disappointed over time to the degree that they lose faith that they will ever be in a position to participate in that essential truth,  beauty, and justice they once believed in.   Here’s the question:  can lost passion be reignited?  Can lost faith be regained?  Can faith really stand up in the face of crushing disappointment?

Of course it can.  History abounds with examples, and typically, when we hear that old story told again, of “adversity overcome”, we all stand and cheer, and pray that that can be us.

Cynics can be hard to live with.  And its true that there are times when you have to build strong boundaries to protect yourself from overly destructive voices.    But what might happen if you and I decided, at least for the current moment, that the cynics we know (including the one in the mirror) are passionate creators in distress, and that a voice calling to what they care most deeply about is a voice they need to hear, and that we will work to be that voice for them, as God is our help.   Let ours be voices that probe for, find, and ignite the passionate hearts of those we travel with.  Let our words and our concern not be for show, for “positive energy”, or for simple peace-making, but rather, why not sincerely refuse to let those around you drag along in an unchallenged, life-denying thought-life?

Here’s what I know: the cynic inside is mostly interested in self-protection, and at least as far as I’m concerned, will produce no life today.   And if I let my inner cynic rule, I’m going to have to ignore the fact that the people of faith in the world, the believers, are paying no attention to my lack of faith at all.  They’re all too busy out doing what the cynics don’t see any point in doing.  They’re out changing life for the better, letting their lights shine one moment, one dream, one struggle at a time.

Children are being born today, for whom the world is nothing yet but possibility.   Newness is all around us.  A hundred years ago, we were not here.  A hundred years from now, we will not be here.  We are here today.   We are each gifted and we are each burdened.   And before the day is over, we will have experienced touches of both our gifts and our burdens yet again.   If we must critique and criticize, let it be because we retain and are committed to our passionate desire to get the work done with our best self, our best heart, and our best faith.   Why?   Because we believe in the beauty and goodness that will break forth when the best form of our work arrives.

Broken hearts transform.   The question is, into what?   Whether our disappointments, broken dreams, and  embattled passions turn us into determined, compassionate artists or hardened, slicing critics depends on many factors, not the least of which is whether or not there’s anyone of faith around when the dreaded breaking happens.

We all know a few creators in distress, flirting with cynicism and giving up.   Be the voice they need today, not just in word, but in your own artistic practice.   And if you are the cynic you have in mind, look in the mirror and remind whatever-it-is-that’s-looking-back-from-behind-your eyes…to care.   Have the guts to care again.  

Let’s not work and play and make according the cynic. Let’s spend the day leaning into our caring, our love, and our passion.   Let us call it out in each other.   Wouldn’t we all rather work from a place of love and faith and high energy than disgruntlement and gritted teeth?

I know I would.

Reminds me of a certain man from La Mancha…

8 Replies to “Cynics: Passionate Creators in Distress”

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I’ve been thinking recently a lot about my “inner critic,” that constant voice in my head that raises doubts and reminds of failures (real or imagined).

    In your mind, is there a difference between the “inner cynic” the “critic” that the self-esteem authorities talk about?

    Thanks for helping me think this morning.

    1. Hey Steve, thanks for stopping by. (You know, we really have to get together sometime…)

      The inner cynic vs. the critic. The only nuance between the two might be that the cynic has real-time experience with being beaten up and disappointed, where as I do think there’s an ever-ready critic that is capable of cutting us up with no evidence whatsoever. They both come under the Pressfield’s Resistance, and they’re both out to destroy our work, so I don’t know if there’s a lot of value in distinguishing the two. Or maybe they’re two faces on the same guy. (That would be a theological nudge.)

      Let’s both keep the cynics quiet today. Have a great one!


  2. According to Sting, who I think has some interesting wisdom in his lyrics, hell is full of music critics.

    More seriously, I really engaged with this post. I need to learn to engage the passion in the cynics I face, rather than just simply try and buffer the cynicism. And I need to look closely at my own cynicism and dig deeper into the motivations behind it.

    1. Hey Jenny,

      Like I said, critics have a place. Sometimes we’re too close to our work to see it, so we need good criticism to help us figure out what we’re trying to do. Cynicism is a more painful, destructive thing. Hard on everybody. This also goes back to the way you’ve heard me talk about sarcasm. Sarcasm is the tool of the cynic, IMO.


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