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The importance of being earnest

I believe that genuineness is a central core of the human condition, and that without it much of what it means to be human is lost — a deeply metaphysical claim for a freshman who doesn’t even really know what metaphysics is. Yet psychologists, counselors, philosophers and even businessmen agree that authenticity is necessary for any type of real connection to flourish. For any true relationship to exist stably, it must have a true foundation — a genuine foundation.

Despite this, the art of being genuine faces a crisis in today’s American era of go. The more you can accomplish in a day, the better. We perceive pressures and expectations (either imagined or real) from both society and our peers that drive us forward, whatever the means. And with the rise of the technological revolution, a large portion of our interactions now occur over the Internet — whether through email, social media or messaging — giving us the incredible power to manicure the image we present of ourselves. We can perfect our rhetoric at our own leisure without the same pressures of real-time conversation or confrontation and ensure that we are left standing with our best foot forward. But we are creating an idealized and distorted appearance for ourselves, eliminating flaws and vulnerabilities.


I am just as guilty of any of these acts; indeed, they seem so universal that at first they appear blameless. But as genuineness is slowly undermined, severe consequences begin to emerge. Carl Rogers, an influential psychologist of the 20thcentury, asserted that “genuineness, acceptance and empathy” were all necessary for personal growth. Rogers is not alone, either — a common principle of relationship psychology is the belief that trust is crucial for any sort of bond to be long lasting. Such trust is essential even to business relationships; an article published in the Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing and entitled “Vulnerability in business relationships” concluded that “trust is important in lean business relationships.” And where can trust come from, if not from sincerity? Without it, real friendships cannot be created, slowly isolating us as individual islands each struggling for its own advancement.

While we search for ways to make more money and meet more people and know more things, we sometimes allow our ambition to supersede our genuineness. We begin to see people as a means rather than an end, and we build friendships to further our careers rather than to enlighten our lives. At Princeton, these empty alliances are most evident in the social atmosphere. The most exclusive eating clubs are the most popular eating clubs (probably precisely because they are exclusive), and the only way to gain entrance is with the right-colored piece of paper or a name on a list. Both passes and lists, however, require only one condition: that one knows a member of the club who is willing to grant them one mode of entrance or the other. The premise makes sense, yet the consequences are horrendous. Underclassmen seek friendships with upperclassman members for the primary purpose of establishing a means to receive passes, pawning their companionship for their own gain instead of for the pleasure of the other’s company. Pleasantries are exchanged and favors completed, but with no earnestness.

Cultures lacking genuineness can only create similar hollow acquaintances, acquaintances that are easily reneged if either party decides that there are more advantageous options available to them. And in losing our ability to form genuine relationships, we start to lose a part of what it is to be human. We are social animals, and if our interactions are poisoned by worries of being cast off as soon as is convenient for our “friends,” then no intimate level of connection can ever be reached. The culture evolving as we become more preoccupied with our personal status at the expense of our authenticity is not a sustainable one.

The trend may not be universal, but it is real. We cannot allow it to progress further without action, however, or else we risk a fundamental part of the human experience. Instead of treating people we encounter as temporary fixtures in our life to be drained of use and eventually discarded, we must make them an end in and of themselves. Connections made purely for advanced opportunity can still be authentic, so long as they are not disguised as anything else. Be genuine and transparent; there still is importance in being earnest.

Mitchell Hammer is a freshman from Phoenix, Ariz. He can be reached at