“Satisfaction, mystic Thomas Merton says, requires contentment with imperfection. It may sound strange, but a word that speaks to this truth is ‘sincere.’ This word is made up of two Latin words, sine cere, which means without wax. As I learned it, the word came about in relation to sculptors and merchants in ancient times. The statues sculptors sold to merchants often had cracks or small holes. Before selling them to the public, the merchants would melt wax and fill in the flaws; because the statues then looked perfect, they could be sold at a higher price. To be sincere, then, does not mean “I really mean it,” but “I really am it.” I really am who I really am. I am not ideal, but real. I am not flawless, but filled with imperfections. And I am, despite this fact, good enough.”
Although the art of letter writing is something of a casualty in this age of emails, at sometime(s) in our life we are likely to have signed off at the end of a missive with the word ‘sincerely.’ The word ’sincere’ indicates that we mean what we have stated, that it is truthful and heartfelt. But as the paragraph above indicates, the derivation of the word ‘sincere’ refers not to veracity or to feeling, but to our imperfect self. To be sincere is to be without guile or pretense. Sincerity refers to our willingness to be our less-than-ideal self; what you see is what you get.
Happiness, satisfaction, inner-peace and the like do not depend on looking good or being perfect, but on acceptance of our imperfection; they are the fruit of honestly acknowledging not only our strengths but our weaknesses – to ourselves first of all, and to others when it seems appropriate. We need not broadcast our imperfection to the world, but it can be a relief to do so with a trusted other. It feels good to be admired, but it is better to be known.
Accepting our character faults, temper, pettiness, insecurity, fear, impatience, and the like, is no small task. The message most of us have internalized from family, religion, and society in general, is that faults like these, if they cannot be corrected, should be hidden from view. But when we refuse to fully embrace ourselves, when we live with a sense of shame because we do not measure up to some ideal, we tend to become self-critical, self-deprecating, and self-absorbed; that’s way too much self! In this case we might find ourselves resonating with film maker and comedian Woody Allen’s statement: “My only regret in life is that I’m not someone else!”
Changing for the good is good, but growth begins with the embrace of ourselves as we are. Before we can be honest with another, “sincerely yours,” we must be “sincerely mine,” that is, honest with our self.