Whether in an office intern, a romantic interest, or an over-zealous waiter, earnestness is inherently and almost universally unattractive. Nobody wants to own that trait too eager to be endearing and too pushy to be popular.
And yet, I believe nothing is more important than being earnest. In this world of ubiquitous injustice and ambiguous honesty, I believe earnestness is the life-raft on which our salvation depends.
It is the puritanical knife that cuts through fake news and punctures the fallacy of fake boobs.
It is the salve to save us from the scourge of contrived authenticity being spoon-fed to us by fast fashion retailers and selfie-taking influencers, pontificating politicians and fearmongering pot-stirrers ladling populism and hatred into the dishes of the disillusioned.
We have no shortage of passion; enthusiastic opinions are a dime a billion. Yet they have lost integrity and are bleeding impact as they become commodities traded faster than stocks on Wall Street, manufactured for currency rather than impactful sincerity. Instead of being vehicles for truth and morality, talismans of vulnerability and foundations for building human connection, they have become a self-conscious exercise in branding, a flagrant posturing for attention.
Applauded, lauded, retweeted, authenticity has become an art form that can be captioned in 250 characters or summarised in a carefully contrived yet completely irrelevant photo. Vulnerability has become an affectation for the masses – a way to cultivate popularity and perpetuate tokenism without any of the turmoil, fear or embarrassment true vulnerability must naturally incite.
I miss the embarrassment of earnestness. Not someone feigning self-deprecation while embodying an ideal we can never hope to achieve, not a politician viewing opinion-airing as an opportunity for entertainment.
I miss the embarrassment of being keen to the point of humiliating and pedantic to the point of annoying in speaking an uninhibited and unfiltered mind.
I miss the stuttering terror and flushed eagerness of speaking from the depths of our souls irrespective of audience or outcome. I miss the cracked voice and heart-thumping honesty of what true vulnerability looks like: the awkward laying bare of those innermost parts of ourselves that cannot be shared without pain or difficulty. I miss reality – in all its painful, impassioned, imperfect clarity.
The importance of being earnest is the importance of returning this reality to a society held hostage to hyperbole, sensationalism, and Stepford levels of perfection. It is about owning the imperfect and championing the very parts of ourselves we are now being told to filter out – the inconvenient truths, shameful transgressions and uncomfortable emotions we all silently carry yet mistakenly believe to be uniquely and unfortunately ours.
It is about more than holding liars, manipulators, and bandwagoning kings to account with solemnity. It is about consecrating the worries we too often undermine as ‘weakness’ and celebrating the shared fallibility we too frequently internalise as ‘failure’.
It is about honouring the fact that some days all I can achieve is three hours of fruitless Tinder scrolling and the lightning consumption of a three-in-one.
It is about challenging the continuation of outdated patriarchy while still confessing that I cannot love my belly rolls no matter how much feminism tells me I must. It is refusing to weaken a plea for social justice with placation; it is confessing that I’ve no idea what I’m doing and sometimes it’s funny and fodder for an Instagram post but mostly I feel I’m letting everyone down.
Most importantly, being earnest is the reassurance – to ourselves and others – that, despite appearances, we are never alone in this cacophonic abyss of ‘best lives’ and contrived smiles. It is the simple but essential reminder that, no matter how unpopular or unattractive it may be, being earnest is what grounds and connects us in the confusions of Twitter and the accusations of Instagram. It is what binds us – in our universal insecurities, dissatisfactions, and inadequacies – in this flawed, unfair but often fabulous life.