On Earnestness

"He’s nice, but he’s just too damn earnest. Where’s the edge?" a friend asked me in discussion of somebody else.

In an old post I asked which traits have a backstop — that is, for which personal characteristics is more of it always a good thing? For example, flexibility is a good character trait, but too much flexibility is bad. Persistence might be a trait that is valuable nonstop, but it’s hard to think of any others.

Earnestness, to me, definitely has a backstop. I value earnestness to a point. But I cannot spend large chunks of time with someone who won’t mix their style with irony, joking, or edginess in general. (I’m not exactly sure these social styles oppose earnestness — earnestness is hard to define.)

Say you had a shitty day. You come home and I innocently ask, "How was your day?" The earnest response would be, "Oh Ben, I had a really tough day. My car broke down. And I got in a disagreement with a co-worker. And worst of all, the supermarket was out of my favorite type of drink. It was, indeed, a tough day." The more amusing response would be, "How was my day? Oh, I had a super day Ben. Just super. First my piece-of-shit car broke down in the middle of the freeway, then my co-worker and I argued about some feature that was in the works, and finally the supermarket didn’t have my drink, which was icing on the cake."

Clearly, too much non-seriousness is hard to take. But in small doses, I find it endearing and funny. It’s a balance.

In general, in terms of the personalities I’m attracted to, I like people who can make fun of themselves, who can deliver good rants if the time calls for it, who know how and when to say "fuck," who aren’t afraid to say something that may not be politically correct, who aren’t entirely predictable, who try to get to the bottom of things (in other words, they rarely say "Whatever…"), who are open to changing their mind, who through it all have a big heart and sense of humor.

That’s my take. What’s yours, on earnestness?

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