Cynicism can sometimes be used as a poor substitute for wisdom. If you think the worst, you are unlikely to ever be accused of naivety.
But this bleak philosophy can also be a dangerous one. Distrust in politicians – the idea that they are all corrupt or “in it for themselves” – can lead to antipathy towards democracy itself.
Actor Tom Hanks recently lamented that cynicism had “become the default position for so much of daily structure and daily intercourse”. He added: “There’s a place for cynicism, but why begin with it right off the bat?” And he’s right.
We should try to trust experts like doctors and scientists, even if we don’t like what they are saying. That doesn’t mean we have to do what they say, simply that we should not jump to the sort of conclusions worthy only of delusional conspiracy theorists.
We should also try – as hard as it can sometimes be – to trust our politicians. But, equally, they have an important duty to help us do this by acting in a trustworthy way. Failing to do so damages democracy – and democracy is a most precious thing, just ask the people of Hong Kong.
Boris Johnson is a politician who many people find hard to trust – a fact that he needs to recognise and take steps to address.
The next few weeks will be crucial to the future of this country – and not just in economic terms. There is more at stake. And so Johnson must ensure he acts with the highest standards of integrity.
Over the next five weeks, the Prime Minister and his Government will not face the formal scrutiny of MPs after the controversial decision to prorogue parliament for that unusually long period.
However, Johnson is a fool if he believes his actions will escape the ultimate scrutiny of the public. If the country feels it has been tricked into a no-deal Brexit that it did not vote for and the consequences turn out to be half as bad as the honestly made predictions of many experts suggest, the backlash will be considerable.
So he should be careful, not just for his own sake, or for the sake of people’s livelihoods, but also for the sake of democracy itself.
He needs to display genuine wisdom – not the cynicism of ‘spin doctors’ who think they know how to manipulate public opinion and achieve their aims in an underhand way. They may offer short-term success, but eventually the truth will out.