Realist vs. Cynic

I was recently accused at work of being a cynic (who, me?).

This made me wonder what the real difference between realism (from a health-care point of view) is versus cynicism. I’m of the opinion the two terms lie on a continuum, but others I asked disagreed.

I’ve looked up the dictionary definitions of both terms, but wonder if one of you nine can explain whether or not they’re stops on a continuous thought/reaction line, or are separate and distinct states of thought. I can see how someone can be a realist and a cynic, but have trouble with Pollyanna being a cynic; I have no trouble with a realist not being a cynic.

Perhaps they’re intersecting subsets. Perhaps one of you can help me sort this out.


  1. Goatwhacker says:

    Hmm, I guess I’d say a cynic is predisposed to interpret issues or events in a negative light, while a realist looks at things objectively but not necessarily positively or negatively.

  2. I have always thought that cynicism presupposed that trying to make things better was a hopeless effort. It has less to do with predicting a negative outcome.

  3. I was accused of being negative this last week, but I wish I had said I was a realistic cynic.

  4. Was it Goethe who said “A realist knows the price of everything. An idealist knows the value of everything. A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

    (Well, if he didn’t, he should have).

  5. I can’t explain it to you as I see myself as all three at different times –Pollyanna, realist, cynic. I’m not sure what my friends would say.

  6. Reminds me of a joke:
    What’s the difference between a stoic and a cynic?
    A stoic is what brings the baby, a cynic is what you washes him in.

    OK, I didn’t say it was a good joke.

  7. Consider the environment though. Take a cynic from the normal world and place them in the ED. They will then actually be a realist. But maybe I’m cynical.

  8. Okay, not referring to my beloved Merriam-Webster’s here. This is off-the-cuff, my best guess:

    cynic vs. realist?

    cynic expects the WORST, has a jaded view.

    Realist expects the BEST possible given the situation (= another view of worse than the scenario the cynic had envisioned)


    your joyously exuberant and always hopeful,

  9. A realist has no illusions.

    A cynic is a romantic with a broken heart.

  10. I used to have a sign on my desk, depicting Dogbert sitting behind a desk, with the message, “Cynicism With A Smile.” I removed it when I could no longer smile.