Cynicism Is a Choice: Take The High Road Instead


When we at QBQ, Inc. work with client teams, we help them understand the danger of possessing a cynical attitude. What is cynicism?

Cynicism: Doubting the intentions, motives, and sincerity of others.

Thinking the worst of people—coworkers, management, neighbors, friends, family—is an awful way to work and live. It’s something I have to be careful to avoid. When I fall prey to cynicism, I play the victim asking Incorrect Questions (IQs) like, “Why is life so unfair?” “Who’s doing this to me?” and “When will people treat me right?”

Bad questions, for sure. (For more on IQs vs. accountable QBQs, click here)

The Millers Are Black and White

I turned 10 in the horrible year of 1968. All I recall is war protests, assassinations, marches, riots, and nation-wide anger and angst.

Much of the conversation was centered on racism.

Five decades later, racism is still a problem in the world—and often a topic in the Miller family. You see, Karen and I are white and our three youngest-of-7 children are black.

And they’re all in the workforce now, serving at fine places like Olive Garden, AMC Theaters, and our local county library here in Colorado.

It’s Not Always Black and White

Recently, one of our girls was treated quite badly by a library patron, who happened to be white. The woman was demanding, demeaning, and dismissive. At one point, she said, “And you call yourself a librarian!”

As a father, I’d like to punch the lady in the nose. Especially since the book she was insisting our daughter find … doesn’t even exist.


Another daughter arrived home with her own story. Again, the customer was white—and could not understand why she wasn’t getting a $1 off her popcorn and soda as a “Premier” customer. Turned out her rewards card had expired.


I could share other negative customer interactions our girls have had, and if I asked each daughter for greater detail, I’d learn that the patrons were white, black, Asian, Mexican … in other words—all Americans and all people.

People who are demanding, impatient, rude—and have been spoiled in a world where customer expectations are so high, no supplier of services can ever have a “human moment” without being ripped apart in person or on Social Media.


Choices and Chill Pills

Our parental coaching of our daughters is never, “You’re a victim!” Just as it would not have been of our four (grown) biological children. Karen, my wife and the co-author of Raising Accountable Kids, and I always want to help our offspring choose that “High Road”—the one where there is no castigation or criticism of others or cynical thinking.

To believe every bad interaction is based on color, race, and heritage would be the ultimate in cynicism—and who wants to live life like that?

When our Gen Z daughters share lousy customer experiences, we provide these choices as our counsel:

1. Smile and take care of the customer.

2. If needed, pleasantly assert yourself with words like, “M’am, I am doing my best right now to solve your problem.”

3. Ask a manager or colleague for help with a difficult customer.

We were proud of our Olive Garden daughter when she dealt with a difficult customer and summed it up with, “He was just a crabby guy who needed to take a chill pill!”

In a world full of racial tension, we’d all be better off taking a chill pill because living a life of cynicism is not good living at all. Agreed? ?

Comments welcome!


8 Responses

  1. John, love your books, simple and complex…but always on point.
    My comment for this blog will probably go against your good advice. I work for a giant company. Corporate america, alive and well with them, as an employee of 24 years, i feel as though my longevity and experience gives me a bit of insight into, that eventually one must make a stand and let our manager, and all the way up the line know when they are not keeping true to their shared values and mission statements. A politically correct letter sent, at least will get it off of my chest, maybe not change things in the big scheme, but on the other hand it just might, and either way, will get rid of my heartburn.

  2. Yes, yes, yes!! I am white, married a black man and had two beautiful children. I refused to let either child go through life with that entitlement attitudes. I even had to tell a sister in law to stop talking like she was a victim because she said that she had to move out of KY because she failed to thrive in KY since she was black. That doesn’t work in my family!!!

  3. What a wonderful message. Coincidently, I had the song, Most People Are Good by Luke Bryan playing in my ear as I read this. We make so many choices in our life without thinking, many that result in cynicism or worse. I am so glad you continue to share positive alternative to help me and others deal with this world we live in.
    Thank you so much,

  4. A nice point of view especially when working at a health care institution where we are proving customer service to our patients. Expectations are high!!!

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