Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin - Virtue #7 - Sincerity
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Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin
Virtue #7 - Sincerity
Have you ever told a lie? If you say you haven’t, you’re most likely lying. It’s human nature to protect ourselves and our interests, and everyone of us has resorted to dishonesty at some point in our lives. I can remember taking a pack of bubble gum from the local supermarket as a child and being caught, only to lie about the theft and make up a story about a worker giving it to me for free. The thing about a lie is that once you tell one, you have to tell more to make sure the first one holds up.
Ben Franklin was by no means a perfect person, but he recognized that speaking insincerely was a dangerous habit for one’s character. He emphasized that one of the more important virtues to master was the practice of speaking with sincerity. At the heart of sincerity is honesty in all your conduct, and especially your communications.
Think of a time when you chose to tell a so called “white lie” - whether to your partner, to your child, or at your job. The problem with telling white lies is that while they may flatter a person in the short term, they hurt the person in the long term. We recognize that lying is easy to rationalize, especially when telling the truth will bring negative consequences. But we must continually strive for complete honesty. If you start telling small lies, it becomes easier to rationalize the bigger ones. And if you are almost always honest, and yet are caught but once in a lie, people will question both your past actions and your future remarks. Your integrity and trustworthiness will always be questioned.
While striving for sincerity, it is also worthwhile to reflect on how you communicate with those in your life. Overly passive-aggressive communications like sarcasm, name-calling, and gossip can damage a relationship just as effectively as telling outright lies. Of course, practicing the virtue of sincerity may not make you the most popular person at home or at the office just because you stop gossiping or teasing and start telling the full truth. However, what you gain is a truer sense of your character and values. You find the confidence to speak assertively and you become a more trustworthy and reliable person. That in itself is the gift that keeps on giving.
A Note From Dr. Andy
As I reflect on the Virtue of Sincerity - and how Ben Franklin framed the benefits and implications of practicing this virtue - I couldn’t help but think of 2 people in my life who really exemplify this virtue in a way that has been very impactful and transformative for me personally and professionally.
The first person is my Granny - who always had a smile on her face - and more importantly, she always had something nice to say to everyone I ever saw her interact with. She just loved to talk about her grandkids - and when you were in her presence - you could feel the pride she had in whatever you were accomplishing (if we made a game out of how to twist any news into good news - my Granny would win hands down!). I cannot recall ever hearing a negative comment about anyone come out of her mouth - and I realize now just how remarkable that is!
The second person is my great friend - Parker - who is just about one of the most intentional and thoughtful human beings I have ever encountered. I met Parker in graduate school - he was a year behind me - and he had a reputation that instantly made me feel competitive towards him. When we met - I was amazed by how he always had something positive to say about other people - and that he would refrain from engaging in any gossip or negative discussion about people we both knew.
Spending more time with Parker inspired me to stop engaging in gossip - and I would look for more positive and constructive topics to talk about with him. I realized how liberating it was to take gossiping about others off the table - and it made me appreciate how much I could trust Parker - as I knew that he was being authentic with me and that I didn’t have to worry about what he might say about me around other people (that’s the awful thing that happens when you allow someone to gossip - it erodes trust and increases insecurity - and if it spreads in families or business settings - it quickly becomes very toxic).
3 Questions to Check Your Sincerity
The next time you’re unsure if what you’re about to say will be sincere, ask yourself these three simple questions:
Is it true? - Only say things that are true, white lies included. Though telling small lies may save you consequences in the short term, it will hurt both you and the other person in the long term. (Exception: You can tell your partner they always look great in “those jeans...”)
Is it kind? - Kindness is important, especially in your tone and approach. Telling the truth is only half of it, saying the truth with love and kindness goes a long way.
Is it necessary? - Do you really need to share this? Will it add to the conversation or relationship in any meaningful way? Or is it only meant to put someone else down?