How do you put on a “show” of sincerity?


From Barbara Ehrenreich’s, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America:

Bright Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

The first great text on how to act in a positive way was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, originally published in 1936 and still in print. Carnegie—who was born Carnagey but changed his name apparently to match that of the industrialist Andrew Carnegie—did not assume that his readers felt happy, only that they could manipulate others by putting on a successful act: “You don’t feel like smiling? Then what? Two things. First, force yourself to smile. If you are alone, force yourself to whistle or hum a tune or sing.” You could “force” yourself to act in a positive manner, or you could be trained: “Many companies train their telephone operators to greet all callers in a tone of voice that radiates interest and enthusiasm. The operator doesn’t have to feel this enthusiasm; she only has to “radiate” it. The peak achievement, in How to Win Friends, is to learn how to fake sincerity: “A show of interest, as with every other principle of human relationships, must be sincere.” How do you put on a “show” of sincerity? This is not explained, but it is hard to imagine succeeding at it without developing some degree of skill as an actor. In a famous study in the 1980s, sociologist Arlie Hochschild found that flight attendants became stressed and emotionally depleted by the requirement that they be cheerful to passengers at all times. “They lost touch with their own emotions,” Hochschild told me in an interview.

[Read about my experience with Dale Carnegie.]

In the same chapter, Barbara tells this story:

Julie, a reader of my Web site who lives in Austin, Texas, wrote to tell me of her experience working at a call center for Home Depot:

I worked there for about a month when my boss pulled me into a small room and told me I “obviously wasn’t happy enough to be there.” Sure, I was sleep-deprived from working five other jobs to pay for private health insurance that topped $300 a month and student loans that kicked in at $410 a month, but I can’t recall saying anything to anyone outside the lines of “I’m happy to have a job.” Plus, I didn’t realize anyone had to be happy to work in a call center. My friend who works in one refers to it [having to simulate happiness] as the kind of feeling you might get from getting a hand job when your soul is dying.

Related posts:

Positive Thinking: Pseudoscience, metaphysics, anti-Calvinism, workplace coercion, and the death of critical thinking

A god-awful lonely place

Missionaries for the cult of cheerfulness