How Sincere (Nas) from Belly teaches us not to confuse self-interest with self-improvement

Belly, the cinematic debut of music video director Hype Williams brings us many memorable scenes. The opening montage in which friends Sincere (Nas), Bundz (DMX), and Weebay from The Wire (sorry I’m not sorry Hassan Johnson will be Weebay forever), rob a strip club stands above all. This isn’t simply for the smooth shooting but also for the actions of Sincere in the club. Specifically, he takes part in the murder faceless security guards.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Why would it be surprising that one of the lead gangsters in a gangster movie kills a few people during an armed robbery? That’s par for the course, right?

Well in the case of Sincere’s role in Belly, not quite. You see Sincere is a man who wants his friends and family to believe hw is at the crossroads of life. A lifelong hood who has parlayed petty criminal enterprises into a surprisingly nice suburban home and a relatively stable home life with his girlfriend and infant daughter decides at the beginning of the film he wants to change his ways. No more hustling.

As part of his journey, Sincere is seen reading a self-help book. Despite derision from his best friend Bundz, Sincere tries to explain his new outlook on life to others. As a viewer, none of this is particularly interesting or instructive. We’ve seen this story before.

What we should notice is where Sincere draws his moral line in the sand. When the murder of several men in order to rob a strip club is needed, we don’t hear a peep of protest from Sincere (nor any words of regret). However when Bundz asks him to join a nascent heroin dealing operation, Sincere has moral qualms.

What we learn is that Sincere’s desire for self-improvement is rooted entirely in preservation of self. While his objections to drug dealing center upon it’s moral implications, in reality he is concerned with the increased likelihood of prison time. Why he did not have that same fear with the armed robbery of a crowded nightclub is not explained.

But what we can learn from this is that it remains really easy to swallow our own bullshit — never more so than when we embark on a journey to change our ways.

As we see with Sincere, it is very easy to describe self-interest and self-preservation in the language of self-improvement. By the end of the film, Sincere succeeds in escaping his criminal past. His family benefits from his change in profession. However his murder victims remain buried. Not a word of regret is spoken. They are simply forgotten, their memories as silent as their corpses.

The next time you find yourself embarking on a journey of self-improvement pause and reflect upon your true motivations. Be sure that you are not just motivated by a more flowery form of deep-seated fear and simple greed that drives most of us most of the time.

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