“Sceptic” Is Not a Swear Word
sceptic archaic and US, skeptic [ˈskɛptɪk]
Even looking at the origins of the word “sceptic”, it’s easy to see how the definition has changed over the years. Surely being thoughtful and considerate is a virtue? Take a young child, for example; one of the most endearing traits of children is their inherent need to question everything. Their insatiable curiosity is something that I believe all sceptics should share. We want little more than to find out the truth about how the world around us functions.
Why then, has scepticism evolved to have such negative connotations? It is now associated with doubt and pessimism, which is an image that the sceptical movement is having difficulty shaking off. Some have even chosen to stay away from the word altogether, rebranding themselves “logical thinkers” or “rationalists”. Of course, these are still commendable things to be- but this problem with reputation is, in some minor ways, fracturing the sceptical community.
A large part of the reason for this change in meaning seems to be the fact that many people mistakenly associate “sceptical” with “close-minded”. In fact, the dictionaries I have checked almost all provide “cynicism” as a synonym. Convincing people that the two terms are not interchangeable is a difficult task- it is not too ingrained in our collective mindset for it to be easily reversible.
This is where sceptics have to do their job- we can’t just proclaim our scepticism and then begin preaching. It seems that now, more than ever, it’s important to explain exactly what you mean when you label yourself “sceptic”. Explain the open-mindedness and willingness to accept new evidence which lies at the heart of your world-view.
More people understanding this intended meaning is a crucial way to change the image of the sceptical movement as a whole. People may begin to see that “sceptics” aren’t just a bunch of grumpy middle-aged men who need to lighten up. They might instead realise that this is an amazing, dynamic movement that always has room for one more. We know it- but it’s our responsibility to spread the word.
So remember- when you call yourself a sceptic, do it with pride- there isn’t a thing to be ashamed of.