A friend of mine had an interesting task recently. She, in preparation for a speech of her own, had to research several young speakers and listen to some of their orations. The problem? Many of them, evidently, were… less than savory to their audiences. They came off as brash, inflated, or simply immature. Having to listen to someone condescending is always a trial, and evidently this was no exception. Many of these speeches proved lackluster, to be conservative with our judgment.
This friend, being the astute, terrifically intelligent person that she is, said something intriguing to me during the course of her research. She mentioned that all of the best speakers she had ever listened to had one trait in common: authenticity. After musing upon the point, I had to agree with her. All of the best speakers I have ever heard struck me as genuine as well.
Authenticity, transparency, sincerity (call it what you will) is not a characteristic that is often spoken about in our culture, and yet it is something that is almost universally respected. It is refreshing to meet someone and realize that what you see is what you get. It sets one at ease to have an instructor who has no ulterior motives. If I am going to be preached to, I want it to be from someone who believes what they’re saying. Conviction should precede speech, not the other way around. Someone who strikes me as genuine is someone who has my attention. (A good thing for a speaker)
What’s shocking about sincerity is that it is a quality that can never truly be faked. A person can make himself appear sad, angry, elated, or any number of things, but people have a keen eye for spotting insincerity. Dale Carnegie, in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People (an excellent read, if you have not yet gotten around to it) mentions how off-putting flattery is. Typically, unless one is a master flatterer, it ends up simply being annoying. In order to come off as sincere, he says, one actually needs to be sincere. If I want to pay someone a compliment that means anything at all, I need to first appreciate the corresponding quality in the one I compliment. A phony reeks from a mile away.
The men and women I admire most in this world are authentic and sincere and open, and I want to be like them. The difference between these sorts of people and the terrible speakers that my friend had to endure might be multi-faceted, but it is a crucial distinction that one group is pretentious and the other is not. What is pretentiousness, anyway, if not hiding behind an insecure façade? People who are authentic, in my experience, are not hiding anything at all. This gives them an air of humility, for no one is perfect, and to keep from hiding is to admit this. Someone who reeks of pretention is proud- a strange twisting of what one might expect, but it is always evident.
We live in a very pretentious world, full of white lies for the sake of image and edits for the sake of obscuring what is really happening. And yet- none of us likes this quality when we meet someone or have to listen to someone speak. A different friend of mine once said something very wise to me that I will never forget. He said, “People can’t relate to perfection, but they understand brokenness.” Everyone is broken, in some way at least. Yet we find it so necessary to hide this fact- especially when speaking or instructing others. Don’t misunderstand me; I am all for putting one’s best foot forward, but pretending to be perfect is nothing more than farcical. Genuine people, the sort of people I admire and wish to emulate, have no hesitance in admitting their faults, but because of this their strengths appear that much more real. I don’t have to question them or wonder if they exaggerate their good qualities. And yet most everyone lives in such fear and behind such masks.
I am broken. I admit to that.
But see- you are too. If I’m upfront about who I am, I will most certainly show the uglier colors in me, but then they will be exposed. Darkness cannot hope to survive in the light. If it is apparent to all who are close to me what my weaknesses are, those things will probably be pointed out to me, and then I’m on the road to God-willing having a better heart.
My point, in all of this today, is to encourage you. It is a frightening prospect to live life with no secrets, to be transparent. If I may be so bold as to bend one of my rules and assume your feelings for a moment- remember that you like those sorts of people. That you admire them, even though they aren’t perfect. Let’s try and be like them in that. I want to be like that.