December 10, 2021

Cynicism: Humour in Ill Health

When someone is messing with you and you feel a discomfort, a “twinge” inside of you, an internal anger, then they are probably making a cynical joke in order to convey to you a harsh -but always indirect- message. Of course, these types of “jokes” are not funny, although they are camouflaged as being such. As the British writer Herbert George Wells has pointed out, and as our title suggests, “cynicism is humour in ill health”.

To begin with, let’s clarify what humour is. Humour is a very special form of human communication that always aims at provoking laughter from both sides -without anyone mocking, ridiculing or humiliating anybody else- by poking fun at a situation and lifting the mood of the group. Cynical humour, on the other hand, is, in a nutshell, an attitude driven by negative feelings, one that exceeds the limits of simple irony and “sharpness”. It contains hostility, concealed aggressiveness, pessimism, bitterness, and it’s not in the least bit incidental that all of the above constitute the traits of a manipulative person. However, let’s make it clear that at certain times, edgy jokes -to an extent- can be entertaining and don’t always have negative consequences.

A cynical person thinks they are expressing themselves freely, openly and honestly. Of course, this is not the case. They use humour as a mechanism to attack and communicate their deepest feelings, which is their way of manipulation. They try to mess with your mind by making you “complicit” to their game. They are above all cunning, not smart. Deep down, they are weak. They are consumed by cruelty, malice, arrogance, provocation and indifference to the feelings of the recipients of their cynicism. They become dangerous, when they see that their manipulative behaviour is accepted by the rest of their group.

So how do I confront a person that’s being cynical towards me?

I believe that the ideal thing would be to respond to their cynical comments right away, disapproving of the person’s response, displaying your annoyance. You don’t need to stress it with the same intensity and cynical tone (although that is up to your judgement). It would be preferable to talk directly, firmly and tactfully. Be set on what you say! Leave the indirect, covert words to the manipulators and the cynics. Besides, don’t forget that you’re not one of them.

Nevertheless, the cynic will most certainly be defensive. They are not going to admit to the immense strain they put on you. They will shift the blame onto you, claiming that you are hypersensitive and that you can’t take a “joke”. It’s an incitement. Don’t be deceived. You don’t bear responsibility for anyone’s cynicism. You are not the problem. It is them and their attitude towards you. If their “jokes” don’t provoke an innate laughter, an instinctive joy or a positive feeling within you, they don’t count as jokes. People have the right to be sensitive, and believe me, the cynical person is sensitive at heart, but has learned to put on a tough face like an armor and shield.

Set your boundaries. Protect yourself. Through those boundaries you draw strength and refrain from participating in the games of any cynical, manipulative person.

Translated by Nefeli Eklektou, Reviewed by Kiriaki Arnaouti

Photography by Simeon Maniatis & Sotiris Stamatiou

Alexandros Tarhanidis

Student of the department of Journalism and Mass Communications of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Hopeless coffee, painting, good time, humour, writing, and travelling enthusiast. About the last one, I promise that our trip in my writing has a destination to reach; that of truth. I wish a delightful dive inside the welter of my thoughts!

Nefeli Eklektou (she/her)

An indecisive perfectionist and translation enthusiast, with a passion for good literature and lindy hop dancing. You will catch her either journaling or songwriting on her piano, which she’s convinced understands her more than people. She’s also certain that it’s not her philosophical contemplations or underlying sarcasm that alienates her from said people.

Kiriaki Arnaouti (she/they)

Born a Drama queen, both literally and figuratively. Her mind is constantly switching back and forth between Greek, English and Spanish but her heart is set on two things only; iced coffee and books. Her Sagittarius nature convinces her that she’s the funniest person alive, but that’s for you to discover!

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