Portrait of the Artist as a Man
February 9, 2015


Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly (1).

Sincerity today is used more to mean earnestness” rather than honesty with ones self or others. When describing interaction , we attribute sincerity to the strength of belief behind an individual’s speech - they really mean that, they are being authentic. Not necessarily honest, but a person is representing their feelings with appropriate emphasis.

Earnestness is an intensity that invokes an angle or intent - persuasion. It smacks of an attempt to make another believe you. Speaking in an earnest manner is not about what you believe but is about what you want others to believe (2). Earnestness is certainly useful, especially when trying to persuade people, but it is a more a tool than a way of being. One who is being earnest is not necessary one who is being honest

Earnestness is not necessarily truth or integrity.

I grew convinc’d that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life; and I form’d written resolutions, which still remain in my journal book, to practice them ever while I lived.
- Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, chapter IX

Where are we when we can no longer trust other people to have integrity (3)? The root of sincerity is honesty. One who is sincere is being truthful and genuine in their approach to life. The sincere person says what they mean, follows their own directions, and understands their motivations for their thoughts.

1. Be honest in thought, speech, and deed.

I think Franklin touches on this in the second part of his description for sincerity: think innocently and justly. He’s saying that we should believe that others are being genuine too, that we must assume that a person is acting in accordance with their best interests. Where those best interests seem to interact negatively with ours, it is our duty to understand the justness of those actions.

2. Believe that people speak and act in their best interest.

If what a person is saying or doing seems un-thruthful or unjust, the sincere person will seek to understand rather than assume what they are interpreting a person’s motivations is truth. The reality is that we are not mind readers and we cannot know what a person is really thinking without asking. When presented with an action we do not understand, the sincere person seeks to understand first before forming conclusions.

3. Where speech or action seems unjust, seek to understand motivation including your own.

If we would just stop and ask people what they mean or why they’re doing something, interaction would be so much easier. Actions that appear unjust may be reasonable if you understand why a person is doing it. An action me be unjust until a person understands what effects it may have. People don’t have all the information in all situations and we cannot assume for omnipotence. Further, an act that provides a person some gain is not inherently unjust if it does not provide you with equal gain. Actions can be mutually, and unequally, beneficial without diminishing a person (4).

So. Sincerity is more complicated than straight honesty. It’s being honest with the belief that people are inherently good and who are not seeking to diminish you. In the event that it feels like some one is not being honest or is trying to harm you, it is integral to understand that motivation before drawing conclusions.

Sincerity is being honest while understanding people are human.

  1. The qualification of hurtful deceit bugs me. The implication is that deceit that does not hurt a person is no problem suggests that honesty should have limits in application. Honesty is more important that situational utility. ↩︎

  2. Modern politics are about earnestness more than sincerity. Sincerity loses races because politics isn’t about what you believe in as much as it is about a party’s platform. ↩︎

  3. See 1 above. ↩︎

  4. Equality is not justice nor do all things need to be equal when thy are unequal to begin with. ↩︎

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