in: Advice, Character, Sunday Firesides

• Last updated: June 1, 2021

Sunday Firesides: Yours Sincerely

Winston Churchill writing a letter at a desk.

Over his lifetime, Winston Churchill penned a voluminous amount of correspondence, and commonly signed these missives with “Yours Sincerely.” But committed to always saying what he meant, and meaning what he said, he would never use this closing in a letter unless he could assent to every word he had written (and rarely wrote a word to which he couldn’t).  

Sincerity represents a strict correspondence between an individual’s professions and their actual feelings and beliefs. Sincere communication is thoroughly honest — free of hypocrisy, pretense, deceit, and contradictions.

Insincerity can be evinced when we act as if our feelings for something are stronger than they are: when we compliment someone out of a desire for advantage rather than genuine admiration; smile affirmingly while inwardly rolling our eyes; accent our messages with a number of exclamation marks which belie our true enthusiasm.

Yet a form of insincerity that is arguably even more common, and still harder to overcome, is that of pretending our feelings are less strong than they actually are: when we leaven the sharing of deeply-held dreams with rueful deprecation; disguise the heartfelt intent behind a gift by presenting it with jokey patter; cloak a genuine opinion in sarcasm; follow a confession of delight with an ironic wink and nod.

It takes a little courage to offer one’s feelings directly; to risk exposing one’s achingly earnest flanks to criticism and embarrassment. It takes a little courage to say, “I really like you,” or “I really believe this,” without preparing, based on the response, to jump through a “Just kidding!” escape hatch.

It takes a little courage to be more true to yourself, and less false to others; to not only append “Yours Sincerely” to what are now rarely written letters, but to make it the valediction (and salutation) of everything you do and say.

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