Sincerity could be passion’s gentler little sister. Passion implies force, drive and mission. Sincerity implies eye contact. For most people here, passion comes naturally. Whether it’s a painting we’re working on, a business we’re launching or a play we’re directing, we’re accustomed to throwing our entire selves into what we do.
Yet, I’ve sensed a sincerity deficit: Propelled by passion alone, we’ve ended up talking past each other, skimming through conversations, running down the clock during section. The whirlwind of the first few weeks of school always prompts a bit of soul-searching for me, casting doubt on the things I want to do and the things I think I want to do. Of course it’s important to figure out how I sincerely want to be spending my time, but more than that, I crave this sincerity from my friends and my peers. And not just in a quiet moment tucked away in the corner of a party or over coffee, but in daily interactions and in academic discourse.
While last semester I had professors who wanted reading responses printed out and handed in, this term, I’ve been posting to forums. I’d forgotten how public and competitive this format feels. After a semester of writing in private, now in writing for the Internet I’m suddenly exposed and intimidated (strange for an opinion columnist, I know). I fret over word count, over redundancy, over revealing some little misunderstanding of the reading that’s perfectly clear to everyone else. This week, however, I read a post by a classmate that was thoughtful and engaging, yes, but really could be best described as sincere. Rather than a summary of his thoughts on the reading, I felt as though I was thinking through his thoughts alongside him. I didn’t feel intimidated; I felt trusted.
This post reminded me that the blog post format is not merely intended to facilitate debate and comparison, but openness. I used to write like that for classes, I thought as I read. I used to tell stories and ask questions that were less than 60 percent rhetorical. I used to be excited when a classmate wrote a response. Somehow my approach had changed and reading something in this voice made me nostalgic for the way I once did work. Which felt strange because shouldn’t years of reading responses have made me a better responder? I think I’d forgotten what I thought made a good response, and had failed to realize how much of myself I’d been editing out. I wondered when sincerity left the seminar room, and how I could bring it back. It turned out that in college writing, I needed a little bit more of that pull that inspired my private Tumblr in middle school.
Even private life, however, has a coating of insincerity. At dinner last night, a friend clarified that even though she had spoken in her sarcastic voice, she meant what she had said earnestly. It was mostly funny, but also kind of sad, as if there’s inherent irony attached to even approaching sincerity. To me, earnestness feels kind of like a saccharine version of sincerity. It’s a bit cloying, a bit self-conscious, a bit in need of self-assurance. I don’t think she meant it that way, but by the same token, she also didn’t choose the word “sincere.”
For a while, we passed “earnest” around in conversation. It felt formal, maybe Victorian. It was neither an accurate descriptor nor something we truly wanted to be. I thought about eye contact and the things that you start to say and then sigh and stop saying and then don’t finish. This sigh is like a form of self-censorship that’s the roadblock to sincerity, not a lie by omission but a refusal of access, a pre-emptive dismissal of the self before a friend or an acquaintance even has the chance to respond. Perhaps by targeting these moments, these decision points in conversation, we can reintroduce sincerity not as something surprising or ironic, but as something expected. In sincerity I should feel the most myself, and that should be the person I most often want to be.
Caroline Sydney is a junior in Silliman College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at email@example.com.