There is a distinction, a difference, between being skeptical, and being cynical.
And yes, it is very easy to collapse the two. However, while the former can definitively slide to morph into the other, they are not the same.
Being skeptical is engaging our thinking muscles as we engage with life. Indeed, the roots of the word comes from a Greek word meaning “questioning” or “thoughtful”. It is to enter situations with trust and empathy and listening while keeping our awareness peaked and mindfulness engaged. We seek to learn and to see clearly.*
Cynicism is to enter into situations already believing the worst of someone or something. Rather than being open to truth and truths, the cynic knows the truth, and it is the cold, hard, truth. And in that world there is no engagement, and no need for thinking muscles – there’s no point. The truth is already known.
Being skeptical is to keep an open mind (for we can be, and it is very powerful to be, skeptical of our own reasons and views**). We can balance our levels of skepticism with our levels of connection and trust. We can be deliberate and whole (not falling into the depths of Descartes-ism) in our choices. Skepticism walks along the middle path.
Cynicism has already shut the door, believing the worst of people or of outcomes. It is immediate. In the realm of cynicism there is no possibility; only, at best, survival.
* It likely goes without saying being skeptical takes work insofar as maintaining a practice of mindfulness takes work. Cynicism is very easy, quick, and can even feel safe, even as it boxes one in to narrower and narrower confines, and where one’s baseline experience of life becomes most unpleasant.
** The very underpinning of a transformation is the shift to a new view that seems unfathomable and darn right unreasonable under our old view. It is a jump to a new you.