We question it; contest it; challenge when necessary by bringing up counter-evidence that seems to undermine it; and we all act with outrage and become highly offended when our own underlying intent is questioned, as if everyone else in the world is suspiciously lacking of it with the exception of one’s self.
“Sincerity” is a funny animal, and evidence of it is like the bond between the wrong committed and the arena of court applied: preponderance of the evidence? Clear and Convincing? Or, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?
The choice depends upon the gullibility of the beholder and the relationship between the teller and the believer; then, for some, a breach and violation of a single instance forever condemns without recourse of forgiveness.
What is the evidence of sincerity? Is it merely words upon words, or must actions follow, and constancy and consistency of behavior?
Take the following hypothetical: Person X says that he will meet you for lunch at Time-T, at location Y, and so at Time-T, at location Y, you go and wait. And wait. Person X never show up. A few days later, you see Person X and you remind him that there had been a luncheon agreement, and why didn’t you show up?
Example A: The person apologizes profusely and reveals that he/she became gravely ill and was taken to the hospital at that very moment, on that day, during the time of the luncheon date. Example B: The person says: “Oh, I found something better to do,” and essentially casts you aside. Example C: The person (who has a wide and well-known reputation for being “flighty”), explains: “Oh-my-gosh! I completely forgot! I really meant to be there but I just completely forgot about it!”
Obviously, most of us would respond to each with: Forgive persons A and C; be angry at B. Why do we react like this?
Again, the obvious answer is: We presume sincerity on the part of A and C (though, as to C, we give some leeway for a reputation preceding the doing, and if we were unaware of that reputation, we might want to proceed by putting the person on a “probationary” status of wariness and suspicion for the next time); as to B, the person has explicitly reversed any semblance of sincerity, and has told us to essentially go fly a kite.
Now, change the hypotheticals slightly: As to A: We later discover that he was seen precisely at Time-X to have been out and about with another person, and was never in the hospital. In other words, he lied. And as to C: Whether “flighty” or not, the person never honors a commitment, and consistently makes promises but each time breaks them. In other words, whether sincere at the time or not, that person can never be relied upon.
And as to the problematic B: We later learn that at that very Time-T, he was actually in the hospital caring for his dying spouse, but did not want to burden you with the long and tragic narrative of his personal trials, and furthermore, his reputation prior to the promise broken is so far out of character that it had left you scratching your head with befuddlement in the first place.
Who, out of these examples, ends up being the “sincere” person, and what is the evidence that changed your mind?
Evidence of sincerity is often a touchy subject, where reputation, reality and roles of engagement coalesce to provide the “full” picture.
For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, such that a Federal Disability Retirement application must be prepared for submission to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, the evidence of sincerity is often important in assessing friends, coworkers and trusted individuals in the dissemination of sensitive medical information.
Appearance cannot always be trusted; reputation, perhaps; but in the end, the evidence of sincerity is often merely a gut instinct that tells you who to trust and why.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire