Long Live Sincerity: Dealing With Snark and Hostility on The Internet

Sincerity Is a Prized Commodity

Sincerity Is a Prized Commodity (Photo credit: nme421)

Love is the virtue of the Heart,

Sincerity is the virtue of the Mind,

Decision is the virtue of the Will,

Courage is the virtue of the Spirit.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Hello, friends! I am so happy to be back. The move was…challenging (perhaps more on that later), and now that it is behind us, I am getting back into the swing of things. Thank you so much for your supportive and encouraging words. Though I have not responded much, I have read all of them, and they have been a source of renewal for me and my family. We really appreciate you, and your hearts. 🙂

Onto the b’iness.

Before I took a break for the big move, I asked you all some questions:

  • In what type of situations are snark/sarcasm/contempt your “instinct” reaction?
  • Is it possible to have a productive dialogue when snark/sarcasm/contempt is being employed by the involved parties?
  • Why is it sometimes difficult for us to speak sincerely? Do you think that, culturally, sincerity is perceived as weakness?

And you guys really came through with answers. In order to be succinct, I’m going to distill the responses down to three main points:

  1. Snark/Sarcasm are often employed, harmlessly, among close friends, as an expression of acceptance into the “group.” In these instances, it’s a form of friendly verbal-jousting that doesn’t often lead to hurt feelings or misunderstandings.
  2. Snark/Sarcasm, when flowing from a spirit of malice, frustration or anger, is never productive. It’s often an instinct reaction in situations in which one feels threatened, insecure, or misunderstood. And contempt is never productive, period.
  3. Sincerity is becoming rare, and it’s often avoided because it’s powerful, and because many of us aren’t sure how to respond to it. It can be off-putting.

For the purpose of this post, we’re going to focus on the virtue of sincerity. (It seems we all understand how snark and sarcasm can get out of hand, so no need to dig into that much further.)

My Sense of Humor is Broken

Here’s an annoying trait of my personality: I usually don’t “get it” when people are joking sarcastically with me, or are saying something snarky. Here’s how a situation like this might play out:

(Husband hands me a breakfast burrito, and I bite into it.)
Me: Wow, this is delicious! You should teach me how to make these!
Husband: I dunno, it’s pretty complicated. Not sure I can replicate it, actually.
Me: Oh. Well, next time, let me watch you, and I’ll write it down.
Husband: … … What? I was joking. I just throw things together, and it takes me about three minutes. It’s a completely ghetto breakfast burrito.
 

See what happens there? I look like a dummy, because I can’t hear that he’s kidding. This kind of thing happens nearly daily (though usually not with my husband, because he’s aware of my “condition”). I don’t know what happened to me, because I used to be sarcastic to the point of intentionally hurting people’s feelings (not proud of that), and now I just can’t hear it. It’s as if my ears are broken. Nowadays, I just believe people, because why would they lie to me, you know? (This is far more problematic and embarrassing than you might initially imagine.) When this happens, my standard line is “sorry, my sense of humor is broken.” (I say it a lot.) I’m not sure why, but my instinct reaction is to believe that everyone is being sincere, all of the time, which is almost never the case, so I end up looking foolish quite a bit. So, let’s talk about sincerity.

I’m Bringing Sincerity Back

I like what Frank Lloyd Wright said, about sincerity being the virtue of the mind. Back when I was a Big Fat Snarker, it was so much easier to respond quickly with a sarcastic barb than to actually process something and respond with sincerity. Not only that, but sincerity felt uncomfortable, and uncool. And it was so easy to tease someone who was being sincere. (Is there anything more weak than snarking on someone who is being totally sincere? Blech. Please God, don’t let me become that person again.)

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin lists 13 virtues by which he lived his life, one of which, was Sincerity. Here’s Franklin’s working explanation of Sincerity:

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

Doesn’t that sound beautiful, and fair? But what about conversations that occur outside of one’s usual friend-group? What about interactions that turn into arguments/debates? What about Sincerity on the Internet?

Something is Broken

Sincerity is the four-leaf-clover of the Internet landscape. It exists, but it’s rare, and when you find it, you better consider yourself fortunate. But why is that? The Internet offers us the ability to communicate with, and learn from, people of all different backgrounds and perspectives. We should have the broadest understanding of people-groups and their beliefs of any culture in history, yet it feels as if we’re the most insulated, and the most hostile.

Something is wrong. Something isn’t working the way that it should. I propose that part of what’s broken is our ability to accept and process sincerity, and to respond in-kind. Sincerity takes more effort than sarcasm and snark. Sincerity requires the suppression of one’s ego, and the investment of one’s mind, to give due and equal weight to an idea that one does not agree with. Accepting and processing sincerity takes work, and requires some amount of respect.

Trading Up

What would happen if we traded our malicious sarcasm and snark for sincerity?  What would happen if we quit expending our energy on tearing things down, and attacking, and entered into every interaction thinking “innocently and justly”? Rather than instinctively snarking in response (and then giving ourselves a mental high-five for our amazing wit), what if we stopped, processed, and then formed a sincere thought in response? What if we sacrificed the self-gratification of doling out a particularly spicy one-liner, in order to sincerely demonstrate love and respect for someone whose beliefs are different than ours?

I really like what Rick Warren had to say in this regard:

Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

Though Warren never said the word “sincerity,” I feel like the ideas are parallel. It is possible, even in a completely detached, anonymous conversation on a message-board, to disagree with someone, while extending love and respect. It is possible to receive another’s sincere thoughts and feelings, without compromising your own beliefs. That is how bridges are built. That is how we nurture and cultivate relationships with those that are on opposite sides of the belief-spectrum.

Dealing With Hostility

“But what about when the other person is being a sarcastic, disrespectful jerk?” I can hear you asking. Well, words are not like math, where a negative times a negative makes a positive; in other words, two wrongs do not make a right. If you’ve read through some of the vitriolic comments I’ve responded to, and ever thought I did a decent job at handling nasty criticism, let me tell you this: responding well, without bitterness, or snark, or sarcasm, or contempt, does not often come naturally to me. Not when I’m being viciously attacked. In those moments–and I know how cheesy I sound–I pray and ask God for his wisdom, peace, grace and mercy in the situation, and I keep petitioning for those things until I feel moved by the Holy Spirit to say whatever it is I should say in response. I pray that God helps me to love the other person more than I love myself, and my ego, and my desire to be “right,” and to have the last word–and I ask him to speak through me. And when I’m faithful to that prayer, God always comes through. Always. (I cannot emphasize that enough.) And it’s awesome! (Though sometimes it pains me to write the sincere, loving response that’s put on my heart.)

Do I execute this perfectly every time? Absolutely not. Do I sometimes get so worked-up that I have to let it go for a few days (or weeks) before I can form a loving, respectful, sincere response? You betcha. But let me be clear about this: when I fail at being sincere, it’s because I failed at being faithful. When I say snarky, sarcastic, ugly things, that is not God speaking through me. In fact, that casts a terrible impression of the God who doesn’t need snark, or sarcasm to speak the truth.

So what do you think? Do you see the value in sincerity? What prevents you from speaking sincerely? Can we all agree to strive for greater sincerity in our interactions, especially on the Internet? It’s definitely uncommon, and as such it often feels like an uphill slog, but sincerity paves the way for authentic, loving interaction, so isn’t it worth it? The comments section is all yours, so have at it. I love reading what you all have to say. 🙂

xoxo,

mj

(I’ll be back again on Wednesday with a sponsored post.)

—————

Let’s be friends!

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15 Comments

  1. I recently learned something pretty cool that’s related to this… “sarcasm” is a Greek word, and it’s derived from the words “sar” and “chasm.” Sar means flesh, and Chasm means a rift or tear. Therefore, the base definition of the word “sarcasm” is “to rip/put a rift through flesh.”

    …Idk. I thought it was cool 🙂

    Reply
  2. Tricia

     /  August 6, 2012

    This has been a topic recently that I have thought a lot about, particluarly in regards to political commentary that I see *Everywhere*. It is getting absurd in my opinion. It seems like every where I go, regardless of the topic, people find a way to bring things back to pointed jabs at either the President, or the evil “conservatives” or “liberals”. It blanket-statements, it polarizes, it causes bitterness and hatefulness.

    Another example- the Chic-Fillet (we don’t have one here I don’t remember the spelling- my apologies) thing. I have good Christian friends that I like and respect who are on opposite sides of the issus. Not necessarily from my friends but from what I saw in the media from *both* sides- I saw SO much hatefulness it sadden me. Things quickly seem to escalate from standing on principle for something to standing against people and putting ourselves in the position of the praying Pharasee (thank God that *I’m* so much better”. We don’t open our eyes and ears. We don’t actually *dialogue*. We are called to be salt and light. But to be salt and light for *positiveness*- not to dry the mouths of others and raise their blood pressure, and not to be a glaring spotlight in another’s eyes. The God that I serve allows me to truly *listen* to other ideas and consider them- to live without the fear that I won’t be able to be guided by Him when I keep Him at the center.

    On Sunday one of the passages that we read was I John 4:18-22. I Really Really needed to read this passage for encouragement. It refreshed me into perservering to show others that I live in the Light by how I treat others- by refusing to give into hatred and by constantly searching for ways to live both with integrity and with loving peace and compassion.

    Sorry for the long-windedness. Thank you for this- I needed to see this- even though I know that I took it in a different vein than you were specifically looking at.

    Reply
    • Wow, I was totally going to mention the Chick-fil-A incident! I decided against it because I didn’t want to alienate anyone who participated in boycotting OR supporting them. SO MANY people got really, really wrapped up in that whole debacle. Where was love and grace in that whole thing? On either side?

      And I see the same thing happening in politics. You’re right about it getting absurd. I used to produce a lot of political commentary, and that’s one reason why I stopped doing it. Even the “professionals” are entrenched in their “this team vs that team” mentality. I couldn’t handle it. I met very few people in that industry that I could actually talk with, and very few people who didn’t seem bitter and miserable. Pretty indicative of the situation, if you ask me. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  3. Love ur expression of this thought since I am slow on catching sarcasm myself and definitely in most cases prefer sincerity! I have also heard that some of us can be sincerely wrong!:) I seem to remember being taught that The Bible/Word of God/Jesus/Paul in some cases used sarcasm so I will be looking for specific cases in the future to see if I was mistaken. Truly enjoy reading ur posts and seeing pics when my phone is able and on my laptop when I get to it! Thanks!

    Reply
  4. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! One thing I would like to comment on, in my career, is that there seems to be no room for sincerity in the work place. When you get to the upper levels of business, it seems to get even worse! I am a designer by “trade”. One company I worked for used my talents and allowed me to grow. I had a good reputation of putting my client first and going “over and above” to make sure their needs were met.I had respect and worked hard at being sincere and myself.
    One trip I made to help set up a new store for a company, had a group of vendors working together. Each of us were from a different company. I had a phone call that was disturbing and had upset me while there working. One of the other vendors knew the sales person that had that account from our company. Unknowingly, this person reported to her that I had had a bad attitude while setting this store up.
    When I returned home and met with my boss, she was upset with me. I had no idea what she was talking about and it upset me to think that someone would willingly report me as having a bad attitude! In fact, I wasnt even told what was said or who said it!
    Since that time, I have racked my brain trying to find out WHAT in the world I had done or said that was so bad. I finally figured out it boills down to the fact that I had gotten frustrated at one point and may have made a comment about THAT frustration around her when we were working together and it was misconstrued.
    I share all this to say, that I have since let it go and have come to the realization that the corporate world doesn’t understand those of us that are sinere and open. I have also come to the conclusion that maybe that is the reason why most people are not sincere….when you are, you are somewhat vulnerable…most people are not willing to be vulnerable….due to the fact that being hurt by unfeeling, snarky words and deeds touch the very core of us~!
    Thank goodness for a God who helps us through these times of doubt and confusion! Thanks again for sharing yourself with us and for allowing me to have a moment!

    Reply
  5. This piece, though undoubtedly well-intentioned, suffers from a deep confusion. Jenna juxtaposes sarcasm and sincerity throughout this mini-article, but the two are not opposites of one another at all. In fact, a good case can be made that sarcasm and insincerity are actually incompatible with one another – i.e., that sarcasm requires sincerity. Let me explain…

    Let’s follow Jenna and define “sincerity” (along with Franklin) as avoiding hurtful deceit – that is, being sincere is just being honest with folks about what you think. This is a standard definition. Here’s the one from Wikipedia: “sincerity is the virtue of one who speaks and acts truly about his or her own feelings, thoughts, and desires.” So far, so good. Here’s what Jenna has to say about the relation between sarcasm and sincerity:

    “I don’t know what happened to me, because I used to be sarcastic to the point of intentionally hurting people’s feelings (not proud of that), and now I just can’t hear it. It’s as if my ears are broken. Nowadays, I just believe people, because why would they lie to me, you know?”

    She is saying that she can’t hear sarcasm. Why? Because she just believes people are telling her the truth – she believes people aren’t lying to her. That is, she’s saying that to hear sarcasm would be to hear a lie (a dishonesty). This is why she thinks sincerity and sarcasm are opposed.

    But when people are sarcastic with each other, they aren’t lying. To think this is to completely misunderstand either the nature of sarcasm or the nature of lying (or both). Let’s take Jenna’s own example. When her husband says (sarcastically), “I dunno, it’s pretty complicated”, this is not a lie. A lie is a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive. And her husband has no intention to deceive her. He wants her to catch his meaning, which is: “it’s not complicated.” That’s how sarcasm works. You say the opposite of what you think and the other person is supposed to pick up on this so that your meaning is properly conveyed. The fact that she didn’t “get” his sarcasm doesn’t mean that he was lying to her.

    Further, sarcasm doesn’t involve dishonesty even when it’s biting or malicious or “snarky” as Jenna puts it. Let’s say someone asks me what I think of the church’s stance against gay marriage. I reply (with biting sarcasm): “I think the church is correct – just like it was correct when it opposed inter-racial marriage.” There is nothing disingenuous about my reply at all. What I mean, obviously, is that I’m opposed to the church’s view on gay marriage. I’m not trying to deceive someone into believing anything untrue.

    In fact, my sarcasm works only if I’m being sincere that I’m opposed to the church’s view on gay marriage! Again, you are sarcastic about X when you say the opposite of what you think about X (with the intent that your audience will understand that you really think the opposite of what you say). But you can do this only if you are trying to express your thoughts sincerely. To see this, let’s assume I decide to reply to the question with insincerity. That would mean that I try to be dishonest with my audience – I try to convey to my audience that I agree with the church’s position (even though I don’t). Now, how would I use sarcasm to do that? The only way to use sarcasm to express that would be to say the opposite of what I want to convey. That is, I’d say: “I’m opposed to the church’s position.” But now my sarcasm isn’t going to work! For now everyone will just think that I’m opposed to the church’s view. While this is the actual truth, I failed to be sarcastic and I thereby failed to mislead anyone with my sarcasm. In short, successful sarcasm presupposes sincerity.

    I’m all for sincerity. Who isn’t? I just think that Jenna is completely misguided in thinking that sarcasm is opposed to sincerity.

    Reply
  6. i can totally relate to having a “broken” sense of humor. i am the same way, and am married to a very sarcastic person…
    but the immediate response i had to your comments on your “condition” was, “no, it’s not broken.” broken means there’s something wrong that needs fixing. your sincerity does not need fixing.
    which made me realize that MY sincerity also does not need fixing. i’ve tried to “fix” that part of myself but the results have left me feeling like an impostor. thanks for giving me an outside perspective on this. it gave me a chance to see an area where i have been attacking my God-given identity instead of affirming it. 🙂

    Reply
  7. Brandon Barkley

     /  August 7, 2012

    I liked this. We will see how it goes, but I am going to try to make an effort to not be sarcastic for the rest of the month and see where it takes me.

    Reply
  8. melissavenable

     /  August 10, 2012

    So strange, I used to be very sarcastic & snarky, too. In my late teens, maybe? All that has changed. I wouldn’t say my sense of humor is broken, per se, but i do hate a lot of the sarcasm & snarkiness that is so prevalent these days!

    The Chic-fil-a thing killed me. I ended up taking a week off of FB, because i have far too many friends on both sides of the issue and both were posting their flippant expressions & clever little jokes.

    I am a sincere person & I strive to be sincere. I do joke around, with friends of course, but not in a mean way. I deal with this the most at work. I started there in December & for some crazy reason, most of the people who work there do not give new people a chance. It’s strange, I’ve never worked somewhere where i was not accepted at ALL. They’re finally starting to accept me, i guess you have to prove yourself first, but they are the snarkiest bunch! I admit, i often want to reply all to emails from them accusing me of something… but i stop & seek wisdom from God on the best response. And it usually ends up being one with ZERO sass. 🙂 And just to that person – not a “reply all”. I agree, it’s tough! But it’s just, better.

    LOVE this post. Love when you write.

    Reply
    • Tricia

       /  August 10, 2012

      I’m glad that other people have felt in the same position. Between this, the shooting in CO, and the whole political thing- sometimes I want to have FB hide posts with certain “key words” from me.

      It’s not that I have anything against FB- I keep in touch with family and friends who no longer live near. I get to see pictures, and I’ve read lots of funny things and lots of inspiring things.

      I’ve been asking for God’s strength to help me take deep breaths and figure out what to say and when to say it. And when I need to not even look. I’m working on it.

      Reply
  9. Jonna

     /  May 1, 2013

    You know, maybe it’s not so much about the sarcasm, as much as who it’s aimed at. I find sarcasm most funny when someone jokes about the irony of us as humans, because it applies to us all. It’s not an offensive humour, but one that says, “Aren’t we all plain ol’ weird. Look what we do in this particular situation. Isn’t that funny?” It’s a unifying sarcasm that brings people together.
    Hurtful sarcasm seems to be more of a direct, pigeonholing type, where it is aimed at one person. You are the target, and it’s probably not funny.
    Getting married meant I had to face the fact that my idea of sarcasm and my husband’s idea of sarcasm didn’t quite match up…his seems a bit more cutting and direct, where as mine is different. But, you know what? The times I find myself comfortable and happy is when we give the sarcasm a rest…and just converse without jabs. We get more done, without all the beating around the bush and trying to figure out if one another are joking or serious or how to respond. It makes you feel guarded and that’s not something any marriage should feel like.
    But it’s a journey of shaping ourselves, realizing that who we are in’t set in stone, and that sometimes what we say is the biggest weapon that we use so freely.

    Reply
  1. What’s So Threatening About a Changed-Mind? (Resisting the Term “Flip-Flopper”) « melissajenna.com
  2. A Few More Words on Sarcasm/Snark « melissajenna.com
  3. When Sincerity Stings « Unwrapping Minds

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