Beware of Sincerity

I recently saw someone preface a Facebook post with, “Hey, sorry for the sincerity, but”… [insert important and personal message about the dangers of texting and driving].

That’s odd, I thought; aren’t we all supposed to be sincere — that is, to be true to ourselves and effectively communicate that which we deem personally or culturally relevant and important?

I don’t place any blame on the Facebook user here; in fact, I appreciate the honesty of her disclaimer. It was as if she’d grown so tired of wrapping her passion in irony that she simply stopped trying. I imagine what she wanted to write was, “Hey hipsters, I’m about to say something serious, so now might be a good time to put on that hat you stole from your grandpa, kick back, and judge me while petting your rescue dog.”

Can anything good happen if sincerity is “lame”? Let’s not actively discourage people from speaking thoughtfully about things they care about. All great communication is sincere in some regard. Whether it’s written, spoken, or sung with suffocating anxiety, contempt, anger, malaise or humor, it comes from a real place and leaves us feeling like we’ve experienced something. And that’s still cool, right?

Notice I said “thoughtfully.” The number of positive affirmation memes on Facebook (which are nothing more than a kind of boring, recycled, pop sincerity) seems to positively correlate with increases in random acts of violence and rising temperatures in the arctic and  they must be stopped or we will all perish in a violent hell.

The sincerity backlash is probably, at least in small part, a result of this over-sharing. I mean, why read “The Prophet” when you can just wait until an ex-coworker posts the best parts of it emblazoned on a picture of the sun rising over Mount Kilimanjaro?  I sympathize with a culture that’s grown antagonistic to upper middle class white people with “We are all One” printed on the ass of their $100 yoga pants. At the same time, I worry that this antagonism is too far-reaching, and that people who want to be honest and real are discouraged from doing so for fear of being ridiculed for their lack of knowledge or originality. On the Internet, where critics are brisk and harsh, people find it necessary to emotionally distance themselves from their own thoughts, opinions and feelings. “Not that I really care or anything, but…[insert well thought-out opinion on something everyone should care about].

I’m guilty of this as well. I’ll often include something self-effacing as a prologue to a more serious message. “Look, I only scored 990 on my SATs, but it seems to me that…” I think I do that for a couple of reasons: that really was my score and you should therefore never do anything I say, but more so, I do it because if I’m wrong, or criticized, I can say, “Yea, I know. I warned you about that — see the first sentence?” I’m 41 years old and need emotional insulation on-line, but at the same time, I  have a compulsion to live my life publicly via blogging. I could get into why I think I do that, but I’m afraid it might come off as a little too sincere or honest. But what do I know, I’m just a middle aged dad who likes baseball and still listens to REO Speedwagon.

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

14 comments On Beware of Sincerity

  • “I worry that this antagonism is too far-reaching…” says the guy who dissed rescue dogs as being “hipster” three paragraphs earlier.

  • Let’s face it, social media (while fun and a lot cheaper than therapy) has allowed us to become a bunch of hyper-critical, sarcastic back seat drivers in the lives of people we “know” digitally.  It is incredibly easy to disable your personal filter, when you feel you have the anonymity of cyber space.  Full disclosure: I have been know to post things that may be a bit sarcastic once in a while, but that isn’t my fault….I was born without a filter and grew up in NJ, where such things are generally frowned upon.    
    Seriously though, I think it is sad that people will see her comment and need to adjust their thinking in order to really take in what she was trying to say.  But even more sad, that we live in a world where the hipsters make the social media rules…the same people whose existential angst, mediocre grooming habits, “vintage” 80’s t-shirt, skinny jeans and frayed paisley scarf make the rest of us want to smack them in the back of their smirky, snarky, self-righteous head…but not in front of their rescue dog, that wouldn’t be mean.

  • Emotional insulation by way of self-effacing… just LOVE it

  • I think that “sincerity” did not mean what that person thought it meant. It sounds like the Facebook poster meant something like, “Hey, sorry for the morbid reminder that you could die from texting and driving, but there it is.” I would file under “that word does not mean what you think it means” ;)

  • I’m all for positive thinking, but all the beautiful thought out words make me want to puke sometimes. You know what makes me happy?  Truth and holding my crotch cause someone made me laugh a little too hard.  I find even on my own blog I feel like I have to hold back to spare other’s feelings!  I really feel sorry for anyone who could actually read my thoughts. 
    I love your site and all of your posts. 

    • InvictusRichard

      Hmm, Jason, you’re middle aged. I was born in the mid-40s. That’s about our points of commonality accept for loving young children, sons in your case and grandchildren in mine. There seems to me to be an awful lot of sharing of information. That would be something that didn’t happen when our generation was your age. We had our list of deficiencies but they were different. We use facebook, twitter, tumblr, and the rest. It all feels oversubscribed with information I neither care about or want to know. And finally, for the texting driver……’re an asshat, endangering the lives of everyone around you. Knock it off. Whatever you have to say can’t be that important.

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