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.)

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Let’s be friends!

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  • About the Author

    Melissa Jenna Godsey

    I’m a wife, mother, accidental entrepreneur, wisdom seeker, and truth lover. We're trying really hard not to keep up with the Joneses. Click through for the whole story.

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