Skeptic vs. Cynic

Several years ago, I went to a conference, where I heard a speaker talk about the difference between skeptics and cynics.  In my mind, they were one and the same.  However, I soon realized (and have observed time and again) that there is a BIG difference between the two.  There were statistics given for what percentage of staff fall into the “Go Getter” category, the percentage of staff that fall into the “Skeptic” category, and the percentage of staff that fall into the “Cynic” category.  I would share out those statistics, but as most of us know 93.7% of statistics are made up on the spot. (let that joke sink in for a second:).

We all know the value of the “Go Getter” group. They are eager to jump in and try new things. However, I have also learned the value that the “skeptics” bring to a team. Skeptics are very different from cynics. A skeptic asks lots of questions, while a cynic already knows the answer (which is always NO). A skeptic makes you think by asking questions like, “How is this better?”, “What are the potential pitfalls?”, “How will we be trained?”, and most importantly, “How will this help students?”.  I’ll be honest, skeptics are a lot of work.  They ask tough questions, they keep you on your toes, and they are persistent. Even my best friend is a skeptic and he can be a real pain in the butt! However, I value his questioning (of everything) and I trust his judgement. All this being said, when they are convinced, skeptics can be your best allies and most dedicated workers.  Not because they were told to try something, but because they now believe this is the best way to move forward after looking at things from all angles.  A cynic doesn’t move forward.  A cynic stays in the same spot and has stopped asking questions.

As educators, it is only a matter of time before we see old ideas come around as the “new ideas” and the constant changes in legislation, funding, and testing procedures can make it very easy to slide from a skeptic to a cynic.  So the next time you’re proposed with a new idea or a new way of doing things, ask yourself, “Am I being a skeptic or a cynic?“.



“Skepticism is a virtue in history as well as in philosophy.” –  Napoleon Bonaparte


“Skepticism: the mark and even the pose of the educated mind.” – John Dewey


“Skepticism is the first step on the road to philosophy.” – Denis Diderot


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