If you ever want to pay me a big compliment, you should tell me that I’m sincere. (If you sincerely believe that, of course.) Sincerity is one of my all-time favorite qualities, and you’ll win a million points in my book if you show me that you value it as well. Too bad it gets such faint praise in our culture.
Not in Spanish, though. In Spanish, you’ll hear the words sincero/a and sinceridad significantly more than you ever hear them in English. I think this is because in addition to sincere, sincero encompasses other adjectives in English that we think are different and important enough to deserve their own word: upfront, genuine, plainspoken, candid, honest, etc. And maybe, just maybe, Hispanics really do value sincerity more. Americans, not so much.
I learned a few weeks back that you can say to be sincere as a verb in Spanish by saying sincerarse, and this came as a most welcome piece of news. Here was the sentence, courtesy of the Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo.
Sincerémonos, mientras haya quienes paguen, el que se cuele en TransMilenio es un ladrón.
Let’s be perfectly honest: so long as there are people who pay, anyone who sneaks onto the TransMilenio without paying is a thief.
I was so happy to learn this word. Sometimes I wonder which is better to focus on: who I am, or what I do? Which is more important? Which is more honest and essential? I always used to put so much emphasis on who a person was, but now I’m leaning more and more toward favoring what one does and seeing that as an irrefutable reflection of the kind of person they are. How wonderful to know that in Spanish I can make my sincerity into an action. Soy sincera, me sincero, en fin. At least, I long to be this way. I’m sincere . . . except for when I’m not. Except for when I’m a chicken, basically. Surely there’s so much more to potentially gain from just coming out and saying it, right?
In high school, my locker was next to the locker of a guy named Sincer. He was Indian-American, and he told me that his parents had picked out the name Sincere for a daughter. When he came instead, they just lopped off the last letter. He was a great guy, always with a big smile. I also remember that he was the first person to tell me about the World Trade Center attack on September 11 at our lockers in between classes. How sincere was Sincer, really? How sincere are any of us?
I’m reminded of the last two stanzas of one of my favorite poems, William Stafford’s A Ritual to Read to Each Other:
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
Even when I first read this poem as a featherbrained high schooler, somehow I registered just how important sincerity really was and what the stakes were. Especially when I now consider how much of my communication is in Spanish, a language I’ll never fully master and whose intricacies and secret nuances will always be just beyond my grasp. As I can never share a mother tongue with native Spanish speakers, it would seem that sincerity and plainspokenness are particularly important. So often, though, I insinuate, I tantalize, I encrypt. Since I still make mistakes and am not aware of all the implications and connotations of what I say, naturally everything that sounds suggestive can be conveniently chalked up to oh, maybe she didn’t realize how that sounded. I almost always do, though. I’m extremely deliberate, and sometimes I do just play dumb when it suits me. So, that’s my confession of the night; my resolution is to be more sincera and sincerarme on a much more regular basis. Who’s with me?
En serio, soy muy sincero y me tienes sorprendido con tu buen español.
Believe me, I’m very honest and I’m amazed by how good your Spanish is.
Es bueno hablar de las cosas sin pelos en la lengua, y decir simplemente lo que se piensa; porque si hay sinceridad, creo que todo se desarrolla mejor y de una manera más natural.
It’s good to be straight up and simply say what you think because I think that everything develops better and more naturally when there’s sincerity.
Yo, en compañía de todo mi equipo, te envío un abrazo
sincero colmado de agradecimientos y gratitudes; además extensivo a tus familiares, colaboradores y amigos.
I, along with my entire team, send you a heartfelt hug filled with thanks and appreciation that I also wish to extend to your family, partners, and friends.
Entre todos los títulos traducidos al inglés, te soy absolutamente sincero, no hemos vendido más de 100 unidades.
For all the books translated to English–I’m being completely honest with you here–we haven’t sold more than 100 units.
I think that whatever the dilemma, the answer is the same: Sincerémonos.