A Question of Sincerity

Since childhood I have wondered if others are really telling the truth or if such a singular truth even exists. Was there actually one unified theory. Everything seemed so situational. People seemed unique and trying to act homogenous or conforming. It wasn’t genuine. What about that creator, the “Great I AM” that has thoughts so far beyond our capacity? How do we reverse engineer that?

To be more exact, I was bent to understand how sincere people were. Did they really believe what they were saying and doing? Were they deliberately lying to themselves? Or lying to each other? If so, why? Manipulating for their advantage? Thrill seeking? Were they lying for sport? Were they just playing a game and nobody bothered to tell me the rules?

As I watched, I wondered if their behavior and explanations of themselves were consistent with the feeling I was getting from them? Are they professing universal truths that would hold water on the other side of the globe, in third world countries or completely different cultures? Or were they just valid where the locals bought in? I listened to the words people said, their songs, their tunes. I read the room, the environment, the dynamic, the situation. I picked up body language. Exposure early in my life to trauma naturally empowered me to pick up these vibe for survival. 

Over a hundred years ago psychologists at Harvard developed Thematic Apperception Tests to understand such questions in troubled people in clinical settings. I was running my own tests in childhood during the 1960’s and ‘70’s having never turned a page of that body of work or having brushed up against the walls of such prestigious scholars or institutions. It wasn’t really rocket science to me. I will admit it was something of a blood sport to me though in the first half of my life.

My experiments began in the Ozark Mountains – central North American – reeling from the backdrop of  the depression of the 1930’s, World War II, turmoil and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, droughts in the Midwest, the Trail of Tears (migration of Native Americans from the Southeast into Missouri) that devastated a once empowered, likely privileged, tone of lost-aristocracy in my family heritage. 

My parents were extremely intelligent and gifted, but dealt a chaotic hand in an economically compromised region of the good old USA in the 1960’s. The drought and depression had put my father behind the eight ball – so he’d emerged from the Marines with discipline and vigor. My mother was from the mountains, the country-side where she was heavily influenced by Native American culture, in some ways presenting herself as a victim of the holocaust. 

It wasn’t quite “Deliverance” (the movie set in Georgia with inbred, Church of Christ – literal fundamental Christian folk as locals who stood in the way of progress with their primal sexuality and violent games) – but quite close to this depiction featuring Hollywood stars who did this one virtually free (Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds). Bored people without hope can find pleasure in torturing the neighbors. I’m guessing, but pretty sure that my parents felt looked down upon by the local powers who ran the Queen City, the hierarchy in the regional hub where they met, built a life together and raised me.

I was hard on myself, just like my parents. The background of the circumstance I found myself in wreaked of the loss of status. I was pressed with the need to “show” everyone we’re not hillbillies. We may be broke but were not poor (as Dave Chappelle’s father also corrected Dave as a youth). Though not entitled, there was a sense that we should be, or we need to get back on top. The fact that I use “we” in describing this means I felt I had a lot on my shoulders. “They” were watching (referring to some hierarchy in the collective without enough dignity to show themself). Growing up like this, I felt like a lot of people with REAL disadvantages feel. I identified with African Americans, minorities, females who were forced into old stereotypes in that era. In contrast, I wore the external armor of an intelligent, athletic, attractive white male. Trauma and circumstance had ripped up my insides. My self-esteem was zero. My trust in others was non-existent and I was determined to figure out what was really wrong.

I was an avid student of life. To me, figuring out how things worked was more noble (and necessary) than being on top. That was understandably a disappointment to my mother. It made me unpredictable. My father was a detective himself and he kind of got off on my cavalier explorations to expose the underbelly of society and figure out what made me tick. So, I was quite a provocative and big personality as a kid –  a risk-taker, an adrenaline junkie and blessed with some resilience to recover from the walls I inevitably crashed into headfirst. I enjoyed being a martyr. I brought a natural understanding to the complexity of conducting trials and experiments in life. I knew how to be observant without bringing attention to glaring contradictions. My adrenaline spit fire when words opposed the vibe! I loved to let things just play out to see the natural order of things.

I concluded most people operate on the spoken word – on the surface. But the vibe tends to be more indicative of outcome – and in actuality, reflected the secret behind the scenes (covert) agreements people had made with each other. Later in life, as I walked into a board room aside a billionaire, he scoffed to me, “Everything has already been decided. Let’s go in here and act like we’re agreeing on this stuff for the minions and the record.” He liked me and needed me around for a while longer.

Over the years I expanded my experiments from those with myself, with others – individuals, to explore groups, organizations, business and religion and cultures – even some science, the stars, the earth and solar system. Ultimately these experiments seem to expose my own assumptions about myself and how things work and often appear in the process of relationship, feedback and echo chambers – yes, it gets really interesting when you find yourself surrounding yourself with your favorite nursery rhymes.

Harmonious relationships often exit between participants where words and vibes, underlying motives are congruent. But that can get boring. I didn’t encounter that too often. I found a lot of drama in my life – which made things very interesting. It had to be to retain interest in testing trust, truth and sincerity for half a century. So I may have an underlying conversation with myself that differs from yours. It’s asking questions. Do you trust yourself? Do you know who you are? Do you know what you like? Do you believe in favorites or did you conform to the idea that you can only have on of something in a category? Do you allow yourself to question yourself and change a favorite? If so, does that erode your self confidence?

Do the words coming out of your mouth, the vibe and motive they transmit, does that in essence come from you? Does it sometimes, but not always? Are you ever surprised at what you do or say? That may sound like a crazy question, but neuroscientists today are confirming more and more that things happen, we even repeat things from some other source, then it’s in our nature to claim them as our own.

So if you happen to be so sure of yourself, i.e. you know what you like in every circumstance and how you’ll respond – do you see yourself as a robot? As a formula? How does that work in your relationships? Are other people as predictable and formulaic? If someone is punished or if a law is passed, do you feel more safe? Are you dutiful? Do we trust each other?

When someone says they hurt, do we believe them. Do we measure other peoples’ experience external to ours? Do you consider the other person’s perspective or is that “next level” and too much work? 

Were you impacted by an abusive father or some cult or Nazi? A neighbor. Someone famous? When you encounter one of these “others” how observant are you? Is the vibe from the past overriding the now? Do you have the ability to sense others tolerance or intolerance of the pain they describe or do we use your own measure to validate or invalidate their experience? Is that being judgmental or is just too hard to tell? Can you distinguish trust, from distrust? Sincerity from insincerity? Must it rise to the level of contempt to be noted?

The point here is do you take the time and make the effort to explore where that core distrust originates (if you encounter it)? And if you do not encounter it, wow – what a beautiful perspective… But if you happened to find distrust … can you trace it back to its origin? Possibly an angry and insecure mother acting out against their child. That alcoholic father. That dirty brother or sister? How does a mother really build trust in a child’s core? Are we constantly looking for something external to blame? To find a scapegoat for our problems? Is it because we really don’t know how to solve these problems ourselves? Are a new mother’s problems really our problems? 

Are we collectively responsible for helping that mother feel safe and secure to pass along the best future we say we want for our children and future generations? Does that mother fear those forces lurking in the shadows who resent the pleasure she may have taken in doing her duty to propagate the species? That doesn’t feel so sincere – but may be a harsh reality in US culture surfacing in today’s divide between abortion and gun control.

Does it feel like we need more discipline and character to ensure the better future? More mental discernment and testing? Do we need better judgement so we don’t make the same mistakes? Do we need to make better decisions next time around? Does that feel like we trust ourselves? Do we trust our minds, science and politicians – where do we even find these? Do we even trust our bodies? Do we trust them to act in unison with our wishes? Do we trust our education systems, institutions and why? Do they reinforce a narrative and if so, how sincere is that narrative.

At the end of the day, all these questions are admittedly exhausting. However, I will defend and hold my position that they are necessary to preserve our dignity. An elderly German American recently rebuked me. He fervently claimed trauma didn’t actually exist as a result of combat in war. He sincerely stated, “PTSD is just an excuse.”

I quickly felt deep shame. Then rage tore through my gut n the moment that followed. The other part of me celebrated with success as a smiled inside and gritted my teeth. “Good to know,” I responded with a grin, secretly my vibe was don’t trust this guy it’s a big uphill battle with this one. He doesn’t feel a thing.

We are indeed complex.

Published by Mark Roach

Mark Roach is creative businessman, artist, actor, writer, producer, engineer and executive.

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