Sincerity and Authenticity

In an recent Op-Ed. Orlando Patterson, a well-known African American sociologist, who has been much concerned with issues of discrimination takes on the distinction between authenticity and sincerity as this was outlined in the 1970s by Lionel Trilling. The issue is an important one for anyone interested in a new enlightenment.

To Patterson and Trilling, sincerity is an attitude or social opinion that is expressed through actions, while authenticity is achieved when an action (or a statement, which is another type of action) is understood to be an expression of what the active person “really is”. Patterson points out that the idea that we have to somehow get behind sincerity to the real core of an individual before we can judge him or her poisons social relations and our understanding of the world.

In the authenticity world, we look for emotional connections, we doubt the motives of others and ourselves. Instead of accepting at face value the behavior and statements of others, we ascribe to them motives and “deep values” that seem to cancel out what we loosely call “the surface”. This devaluing of the conscious in favor of vague insights into the subconscious poisons society.

Patterson argues that what matters is civility and tolerance, willingness to follow the social rules, to keep promises.

It is interesting that Islam long ago confronted this problem. To be accepted as a convert to Islam one must recite the Shahadah
(“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.”). According to a well-known tradition, Muhammad was asked how to know if a convert really believed. He replied that if he recited the Shahada three times, he should be believed. The implication was that one should not “dig deeper”.

The enlightened world is a world in which people are to be judged by their actions and words rather than their “essences”. This is the only way in which we can work with people toward common goals.

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Explore posts in the same categories: morality, philosophy, ways of life

One Comment on “Sincerity and Authenticity”

  1. Aicha Says:

    I agree with Patterson, but up to a point: authenticity and sincerity are deeply connected, and you can’t have “sincere” behavior without some kind of emotional authenticity behind it. A politican can be a raging homophobe and racist yet be courteous toward the gay and black community in order to advance his career, or a waitress may be sincerely flattered by the attentions of a greasy, rich patron. But the problem is that people can sense when you try to hide your deepest emotions beneath a veneer of social politeness. It’s troubling for them to watch, and it’s troubling for the “inauthentic but sincere” person to take actions that veer too far off from inner conviction. When that facade explodes – that’s when we get guys like Mark Foley, that’s when we get the late-life divorce of couples that secretly hated each other for 50 years. The emotional connections that Patterson dismisses *must* be there to back up those “sincere” actions, at least if these actions are to be sustained over time.


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