The everyday discourse in the primary health networks sees us applying labels to ourselves and others. We sometimes do this as a form of ‘shorthand’ to convey a perception of someone’s orientation and attitudes to healthcare reform. Some we label as sceptics and others cynics!
It concerned me a little that these key terms were being used interchangeably creating confusion so I took the time to hunt up some definitions. Those with an interest in history will know that these terms were applied to different philosophical schools of thought from ancient Greece. They survive because they are useful in understanding worldviews that persist to the present day.
Scepticism is generally any questioning attitude towards putative knowledge or belief.
Cynicism in its contemporary meaning is an attitude or state of mind characterised by a general distrust of the motives of others. As one GP put it “in the race of life always bet on self-interest because at least you know it’s trying!”
This definition is a departure from the more nuanced original meaning that saw Cynics in ancient Athens strive to live in virtue and in agreement with nature eschewing the trappings and comforts of society.
The insight here is that words mean different things to different people at different times. When consulting with stakeholders you will often hear people apply labels to themselves and at these times it might be necessary to check or misunderstandings are likely to occur.
- How would you characterise yourself? Are you typically a sceptic or a cynic?
- How would others characterise you? Ask your work colleagues -you might be surprised.
- Can a person be sceptical about one matter and cynical about another?
- Can you be sceptical and optimistic at the same time?
- What role might cynics assume in an organisation responsible for leading out health system reform?
- What different approaches might you use when engaging people with these different worldviews?
By the way- I can recommend the fiction book Sophie’s World by Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder as a delightful introduction to the history of philosophy- a great holiday read!