Sincerity or Backhanded Compliments

Everyone enjoys a good compliment, but sometimes, no matter how hard we try, the words we say come crashing into the reality of what we really believe.

Recently I went out to eat. An older couple and a young man were seated at the table next to me. It looked like a grandson enjoying a meal with his grandparents. I didn’t intend to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help but overhear parts of their conversation. The young man was talking about a girl he would like to date.

“If you like her, ask her out,” his grandmother advised. The young man sputtered and shook his head.

Sincerity or Backhanded ComplimentsPreoccupied with his soup the kind looking elderly gentlemen responded without hesitation, “Of course she’ll go out with you. You’re a fine young man. You don’t sweat much for a fat boy.”

Eyebrows raised. Looks were exchanged. Everyone stopped chewing.

After a brief silence the grandmother responded, “And you smell nice for a well marinated old coot!”

They all laughed and enjoyed the rest of their meal together.

We’ve all been there. We get tang-tongueled…tongue-tangled. A kindness we intend to share accidentally becomes the backhanded compliment that reveals our true thoughts, the words we mean to say inexplicably replaced by the opinions we really mean. We might call it a joke, a Freudian Slip, or a momentary lapse of sanity. Whatever our excuse, what comes out reveals what’s inside.

Backhanded compliments can be a light-hearted example of hypocrisy. But genuine hypocrisy is much more insidious than that. With clever words and questionable motives we deceive ourselves into believing that good intentions are enough. We convince ourselves that broken promises will be overlooked, ignored, minimized or redeemed simply because we say our motives are pure. It’s what makes hypocrisy insidious. The only person truly deceived is yourself.

Every choice we make reveals what we really believe. Everything else is just talk.

That’s why sincerity is a quality of character worth practicing.

Sincerity is the eager desire to do what is right with transparent motives. It’s a genuine concern for the benefit of others. Sincere people say what they mean, mean what they say and guard their word with choices that demonstrate their determination to stand on the core values that define who they are.

Here are three practices that can help us grow in the quality of sincerity.

SET THE TABLE – The quality of a meal is influenced by the setting of the table. I’ve eaten at crowded fast food restaurants where the table wasn’t clean. The food may have been good. It may have satisfied my hunger, but the experience made me never want to come back. I’ve also enjoyed a mediocre meal at a place with fancy dishes and tablecloths. The food may have been average, but the atmosphere gives me an excuse to give it a second chance. How you deliver the truth is as important as the truth being delivered. It’s not enough to speak your mind. You have to speak it well. Setting the table strengthens sincerity by preparing people for the opinion you’re about to share.

PRACTICE DISCRETION – the great theologian and philosopher, Kenny Rogers, once said, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” That’s discretion. Discretion is the art of saying or doing the right thing, the right way, at the right time. Just because you know something doesn’t mean you have to share it. Just because you’re asked doesn’t mean you have to answer. Discretion strengthens sincerity by allowing you to apply the right answer at the right time in the right way.

FOLLOW THROUGH – Nothing strengthens sincerity like a promise kept. There’s something admirable about someone who stays true to their word even when doing so costs them something. Say what you mean, mean what you say, deliver it well, in the right time and the right way then follow through with choices that prove you can be trusted.

The truest test of sincerity isn’t the words we say or the intentions we have but the actions we take to be faithful to one another.


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