What is Cynicism? What does Cynicism philosophy teach us?



What Is Cynicism? What does Cynicism philosophy teach us?


If you have ever wondered what Greeks call dogs in their language, you will be dumbfounded to know the origin of the word Cynicism. The origin word in focus is Kynikos, aka Cynicism. 

Kynikos is a word for being dog-like or canine. I am pretty sure that you have now decided to never call yourself cynical! 

But wait! Have patience. Do not jump to conclusions. After reading about Cynicism, who knows, you might prefer to be a cynic! 

What is the meaning of Cynicism? Are you cynical?

Oxford dictionary defines Cynicism as an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest. Let me explain the meaning with the help of an example.

A man goes into a temple and donates an exorbitant sum of money for the maintenance of the temple. Of course, this is a highly respectable and charitable act. What if you are a cynic?

You will view this man as selfish. Why is that? Being a cynic, you have the perspective that he had donated to upgrade his social standing. The priests and the people around will speak highly of him. It is no surprise that most of the people desire their names to be displayed or published in big outside the temple for making hefty donations. 

You sense a lot of selfishness around you and declare that the future of mankind is bleak. Thanks to technology, donations are flaunted on cameras! Do you not think that this term is a highly pessimistic one?

If you help somebody intending to receive a greater help or to build your reputation, don't you think you are selfish? Yes, the concept of Cyncisim will resonate well with you!

How did Cynicism become a philosophy?

Thanks to some Greek philosophers before the stoic era who popularised the idea of being cynical. It was Antisthenes, a pupil of Socrates, who is regarded as the founder of Cynicism philosophy. However, Cynicism's roots were nurtured by his cynic successors. Diogenes passed on his wisdom to Crates of Thebes, who later passed on to the founder of Stoic-Zeno. However, here is a fascinating story about a man called Diogenes.

What's the story?

The story dates back to around 4th-century bc in Sinope, located on the coast of the Black Sea (present-day Turkey). Diogenes was the son of a banker who minted coins. Not much is known about Diogenes' profession except the fact that he was exiled because he was involved in a scandal of defacing currency.

All his possessions and material wealth were taken away from him, including his citizenship. Here comes the twist.

Instead of blaming situations or himself, he loved poverty. He made his living begging on the streets, eating in the marketplace, and carrying out all sorts of shameless activities in public. He preferred asceticism over materialism, dogs over humans, and Cynicism over everything! 

He used to stroll around in the marketplace with a lamp in full daylight to search for an honest man! Even though eating in the marketplace was forbidden in Athens, he loved breaking the norms of society. He urinated on people who mocked him and defecated in theatres! 

Diogenes believed that dogs lived in the present. They had no worries for tomorrow, sit or shit where they want, make love anywhere, and live a life of indifference. No doubt, people called him a dog for deviating from conventional social manners.

Cynicism is a life free from all material possessions, free from all social norms, being content with the fulfillment of basic survival needs, and living with nature.

What Diogenes replied to Alexander the Great in Corinth will astonish you.

In Corinth, while the nomad was resting under the morning sunlight, Alexander the Great approaches him and asks if he needs any favors from him. Diogenes retorts,

"Yes, stand out of my sunlight."

The surprised Alexander could only wish he had become Diogenes, who was content with everything! 

Diogenes was described by Plato as a Socrates gone mad!

Lessons from Cynicism to take home

Of course, Diogenes took his philosophy to extremity. Socrates did preach Cynicism but in a socially convenient way. Diogenes saw happiness in living in the present moment. Whole life, we chase money, fame, and power, failing to realize the futility of the chase. The word "Cosmopolitan" was first used by Diogenes when he mentions that he is not tied to any city or a country. He called himself a citizen of the world.

Cynicism is about living a life free of any superfluous desires. It is not surprising to state that human beings are the only species on earth who are never content with what they have. Dogs are closer to happiness than humans. 

My opinions on Cynicism

You do not need to be a hardcore cynic. It is our job to extract the best lessons possible from any event or philosophies- lessons that can enrich our lives. We do chase or desire things that are entirely unnecessary and become depressed when we don't have them. Alexander was never content with his world conquest. Therein lies a remarkable contrast- something as elementary as sunlight can be enjoyed with content.

The core of the philosophy is in being free from the shackles of social norms and living a life with no heed for tomorrow. We can simplify our complex lives to a great extent. We can reject a lot of things that do not contribute to making us happier. It is time, to be honest with ourselves. 

However, you cannot banish yourself from the thoughts of your future. As always, I would opine not to be obsessed with your future and start living with what you have now. 

Mankind is not a curse. We can still change.

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