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Sincerely Faking It: Why We Are Sometimes Insincere.

My parents and brothers, who have known me long enough, know when I say, “well, I like my brownies a little burnt,” or that, “the juice is better when it’s watery,” that I’m so wholly and completely faking it. Busted.

There’s a fancy term to describe this sort of feigning — “prosocial lies”. Studies (Levine, 2015) even suggest that deception helps breed trust if the lies are mutually beneficial. Intuitively, something in me rebels against coating our tongues in the name of niceness, though grudgingly I will admit that faking it is a part of the tool kit for social survival.

The closer you get to a person, the more you are able to read their nuances. A person’s microscopic “data”, be it a swift glance to the left, a flicker of a dead pan lost expression, a minuscule quiver in the tenor of their voice are absorbed into our “internal meters” that compute faster than light to surface a verdict; at times the verdict is –“ so fake”

Trilling (1972) digs into the first occurrence of the word “sincere”. He states that the word first appears in the latter part of the 16th century, after it appeared in French. In Latin, “Sincerus” quite literally means to “clean, or sound or pure.” In its most basic sense, it meant untampered or unadulterated, extending even to material things such as wine. The absence of sincerity later grew to include “pretence” or “to feign” behaviour.

Why negotiate the meaning of the term? No one needs to define “sincerity” for us, do they? Being genuine, wholesome, earnest and authentic are highly valued social skills or attributes that we know to detect, not without fault or doubt, but largely with self-assessed accuracy, because it’s something we feel rather than know or can pin down.

However, as much as apparent insincerity (or fake behaviour) festers a foul taste in our relationships, how many of us can truly say we have always been our authentic selves? When we read about “how to avoid fake friends” and “how to spot fake people” we seem to be excluding ourselves from this prototypical behaviour, but can we sincerely do so?

I highly doubt it for two broad reasons:

Our Inner Ugliness.

Stars hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires”- Macbeth

We are not evil but we are ugly, sometimes.

Granted we don’t want to assassinate our ruler on a regular basis (or do we?) and the average person does not want to poison their spouse; however, we have ugly thoughts every day, largely linked to greed and jealousy. We are not always happy and in fact, most times, unhappy about even a friend’s success. I said it. I don’t mean the happy glow that surfaces in your mind when you think of your good bud reaching new heights at work. I mean deep within, the slight pang of the green-eyed monster that asks narcissistically, “why not me?”

I recall a time I was truly my most unabashed honest self. A recent friend of mine had just gotten married to one of my closest friends. My romantic interests, on the other hand, had plummeted. I was not in a place I could genuinely be happy for them. Awful, I know, but I admitted my jealousy to said friend when asked why I had distanced at that time. I don’t know how well received this authenticity was. To this day, the friendship is not wholly restored. We can be real always but at what cost?

We rarely confront our own authentic ugliness, so feigning sincerity then becomes a crutch and a quick fix of the inner “uggo” you don’t want to meet within yourself nor acquaint with your intimate audience.

Though sentiments become counterproductive if counterfeit, we can’t always let our ugly impulses lurk its head. It causes too much damage.

Our Need to be Liked

How do you like your eggs? Is it the way you like them or is it how the next person does so you can both have the same thing and you don’t want to trouble the chef and be a burden to the kitchen and, by extension, society? You’ll have whatever he’s having?

Julia Roberts, in Runaway Bride, didn’t know how she wanted her eggs. Her indecision and overcompliance was metaphorical for being lost in her identity and a traitor to herself, or in simple terms being fake.

This behaviour can be classified more positively as being agreeable but also harbour a negative side, tangent to being insincere in the strict sense of the term. We often fake what we like, want, or want to want, to fit in, be accepted and validated. Could it be that at the heart of every feigned compliment or undue praise there lies in us a deeply insecure person who seeks external validation? This could be us on occasion, and at other times, we could just be downright manipulative without intending to be.

Ironically, we fake upwards; by default, feigning sincerity means to adopt a “positive” trait, to compliment, praise, agree, and accept. In the best-case scenario, the faker is creating a tolerable environment rather than always wreaking havoc with raw realism.

A group of American scholars reviewed by The Guardian concur with this view. Over sincerity, or in others words, “being real” is noted to be a free pass to also be arrogant in the name of authenticity. Our interactions in the world are not all about asserting one’s “self” as truer than another. As Hudson says, “We acknowledge that engagement with others is not simply about each individual “me” jostling for position; it is about many of us queuing politely and waiting our turn.” During this wait, we have to sometimes feign our wants or reactions in a ritualistic way. It is not conceivable to be sincere all the time.

To simply get along in a relationship, someone has to give in, and to deem agreeability at the cost of one’s genuine wants as “fake” is a tad unfair.

How do we reconcile?

In instances where I have been fake, to either save face or perhaps seek gain and approval, it has happened so instinctually that I am only aware of it upon further reflection. I don’t believe feigning is premediated or calculated like executing a bank robbery. In a sense, we are sincerely insincere. It’s nothing to be proud of but you have to eventually come to terms with our own inauthenticity and short cut tricks you use to tackle in-laws, bad haircuts and ugly gifts.

The answer to whether or not sincerity should be faked at times may go either way; however, I will not disguise disingenuous behaviour as somehow rooted to self-impairment and so evoke empathy to suit its cause. Admittedly, no matter how lightly I have painted it, insincerity it not ideal — in fact, it’s rotten. Yet, aren’t we all flawed and fallible? To polarize the world into ‘genuine’ versus ‘fake’ people is mythical. Every one of us takes turns at being both in a topsy-turvy coexistence.

In the end, our sincerity will be more valued, as it should, for life does not tarry with ill-disposed traits but rather honourable ones.

If you do reflect and catch those flickering feigned moments, examine its birthplace; be honest with your insincerity and see it for its sometimes-genuine cry for help. If it is wholly ignoble and malicious, we must deal with it nonetheless.

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Manishka Gunasekara

Manishka Gunasekara

Teacher. Writer. Generally, a curious being.