My mentor and friend, PRI founder Rich Mansfield, liked to talk about the importance of sincerity, and wind it up with song lyrics. “You gotta be sincere,” he’d quote from “Honestly Sincere” from Bye Bye Birdie. “You gotta feel it here,” he’d add, with hand over heart.
I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot lately, as the origins of the word “sincere” recently came up in my reading. According to one theory, sincere has its roots in Roman times, with “sin” meaning “without,” and “cera” referring to “wax.” So, to be sincere is literally to be without wax.
Putting it into context, artisans and vendors selling statues or blocks of marble, or even gold, would sometimes find flaws or cracks in the material and fill them in with wax so they’d looked perfect on the surface. When it’s a statue, that’s not so awful, but when it applies to actual blocks used to build something, that insincerity could result in something downright dangerous. So, sincere in this context literally means, “without wax,” as in, someone or something that is the real deal, not trying to cover up or hide anything. Being able to stamp something as sincere was a real mark of it being genuine. Pure.
While some sources call this an old wives’ tale, I take it to heart. In speech and correspondence, and everyday dealings—whether it’s a business conversation or addressing a group of children—sincerity goes a long way in establishing character. And honestly, don’t you think that being “honestly sincere” is a great virtue, no matter what you do?