Social Sabotage part 4: Crotchety Old Man Syndrome

At least once in your life you have probably experienced somebody act unusually “thorny” toward you. Maybe they intentionally acted very vulgar around you, maybe they made a snarky comment, or maybe they just outright insulted you. Either way, they seemed to have a natural desire to ruffle your feathers. When you are dealing with this, you are dealing with a special form of cynicism I like to call Crotchety Old Man Syndrome.

Crotchety Old Man Syndrome revolves around carrying a pessimistic mindset about humanity where you identify and concentrate on the negative traits of others. In many ways this is very similar to down-playing, but it does also have differences. Down-players focus on clear, specific traits unique to a given group or individual. In contrast, Crotchety Old Man Syndrome revolves around having a broad general negative view of people.


When being a cynic, you will typically view all of humanity as generally being chaotic, violent, greedy, and self-serving. Anybody who has an optimistic view of humanity is perceived as being unrealistic and inappropriate. It can then be very easy to use your view of the world to act like a crotchety old man. This manifests in a number of ways. You may be inclined to express more of an attitude toward people. You might curse more frequently and make light of situations that will be very sensitive to others. Joking about school shootings, the Holocaust, or 9/11 is not unheard of. You may be also less inclined to engage social etiquette such as properly greeting uninteresting people when meeting them, asking how people are when you don’t care about the answer, etc. In essence, you become irritable, grouchy, and rude, and may as well be doing this:

It’s also worth noting that cynics also have a lot of issues with institutions. As a cynic, you often identify ways that institutions are flawed in design. This can become an issue if you emphasize flaws too much and don’t emphasize benefits enough. The result is that you undermine your own motivation within that institution. I’ve seen many examples of this occur both in schools and workplaces when somebody dropped out or got fired because their negative attitude prevented them from getting anything out of their studies or work.

Why is cynicism enticing?

There are many reason why cynicism can be popular. One is the fact that it’s a lot easier to hate a class and get bad grades than to face the possibility of trying and discovering you are just a “failure”. Likewise, it’s easier to excuse people disliking you as you being a crotchety old man, than to face the fear that you could be “unlikable” or “unlovable”. In essence, cynicism is an easy cop-out from facing your fears. It’s a way to avoid whatever belief about yourself you don’t want to face.

Cynicism is also empowering at times. When we are cynical, we are often bitter, angry, and wrathful. Many people have done huge things motivated by these sort of feelings. They can feel really powerful and make us feel like we actually have a handle on our own lives. It allows us to hide from the part of ourselves we don’t want to face. The part of ourselves that feels weak, disempowered, useless, and scared.

Cynicism is something to believe in. It may sound weird, but it is true. Cynicism is a belief system. Many people fall into cynicism when their original belief system fails them.  People, by nature, like to have a way to understand the world and it is easier to believe the world is a terrible place than to have no feelings on the subject at all.

Cynicism can be a source of identity. Cynicism to some extent is a subculture. People often bond over how messed up they think society is. This means that being a cynic can often be a part of your identity and a way that you find belonging in a social group. It also gives you a strong sense of self by knowing who you are and what you believe in.

Dealing with it.

Drop the BS mentality.

There is sort of a magical term in cynicism and that term is BS. Every time you use BS to describe a situation you feed your negative attitude toward it. For example, if you have  a project you need to complete and you start saying the project is a load of BS, how likely are you going to be motivated to get it done and do it well? Instead of describing something as BS take the time to think about what purpose it fills for you. What do you get out of completing it? Why is it necessary? What’s the reward at the end of the tunnel? How will this help you get to your dreams? If any part of the situation seems particularly silly and uninteresting, take the time to understand why it is important. Everything is done a certain way for a reason.  If the reason is non-sensical to you, take the time to imagine what would be involved in doing it differently.  Usually, the reason something is done a certain way is that doing it another way is either surprisingly inefficient or requires moving mountains so that an entire institution is set up differently.

Play the game.

Would you hop on one foot and make walrus noises for 5 seconds if it made your wildest dreams come true? Sometimes you have to do very silly things to get the things you want in life. Cynics make the mistake of thinking that if something is silly and unneccessary that it is not worth your time. This is far from the truth. Part of life is being willing to do what it takes to get what you want. As soon as you let your own pride prevent you from doing all the things you love, you’ve already lost. Wouldn’t it be worth sitting through that mind-numbing math class if it meant you wound up working at Google? Set that pride aside, and you’ll eventually find more pride in doing what it takes over the silly notion that you are demeaning yourself by pursuing important dreams.

Let go of being right.

This can be very hard to do at times, but it’s important. One of the reasons cynics can struggle in life is because they can’t allow themselves to be wrong. This kind of rigidity really hinders personal growth and prevents new opportunities from arising. It’s also frequently not good to be right. For example, I would much rather discover that people are generally good, kind, and well-intentioned and be wrong, than to be right and live in a world where everybody is mean, cruel, and uncaring. Sometimes it’s worth giving up an opinion if it means you get to see the world in a new light.

Try being an optimist once in awhile.

Stop assuming the worst. It’s been unsurprisingly found that pessimists are consistently unhappier than optimists. They are more likely to not recognize good opportunities and miss them due to the tendency to assume the worst case scenario. Take some time to think about the positives of your life. What has worked well? What are you happy about? What could go right? You can even think about what the worse thing is that could happen if you DIDN’T seize an opportunity. Try to invert your thinking once in awhile and smile from time to time.

Recognize your fears and start dealing with them.

This is both a big and scary step to dealing with cynicism. Often we engage in cynicism because we don’t want to face the music. We’re scared to admit to ourselves that we’re scared. What if I am actually not cut out for this job? What if people really don’t like me? What if I’m really just a useless failure? What if applying myself actually doesn’t get me somewhere?

Whatever the fear is, it’s important to recognize it and deal with it. Sometimes the fear will even be true. Maybe you are terrible at your job and that causes you to find something you are really good at. Maybe people really don’t like you, but now you know that you can change yourself to be a better person people can get close to. Maybe you are even a failure, and it’s time for you to face that fact and that you need to find a different path to your success.

More often than not, though, your fear is actually not real. When you try, you will find you are actually quite good at everything you do. When you honestly try to open up and make friends, people actually really like you. When you start dealing with your fears, you start moving forward in life. You allow yourself to find a meaningful career, close friends, and maybe even a lover.

As long as you allow cynicism to be your hidey hole from your fears, you will never get everything you want in life. Start looking at what you are hiding from and starting dealing with it.

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