Authenticity. How did authenticity ever become such desirable character quality in our social basket of personality traits? Truthfully, I’m thinking that authenticity is a farce, a myth.
Does Authenticity Even Exist?
First of all, I don’t even know what it means. Like not being “authentic” means we are pretending to be someone else? Well, here’s some disturbing news: we are always pretending. We “pretend” to be a certain person at our job, another person as a parent, another as a friend, and yet another as a close friend. And then a whole different person as a partner or spouse.
Second, I am not convinced we ever really know who we are in the depths of our psyche or personality. I frequently remind people not to judge another person’s motives when we are not even sure of our own. I can’t speak for you, but for me, I am always changing—outside and inside. Things I once believed strongly, I no longer believe at all now and have been replaced oftentimes by their polar opposites.
Authenticity Requires Acute Self Knowledge
Maria Popova wrote, “…we live much of our lives lost within our own psyches, confused and conflicted about what we really want.” And I would add that we are equally confused and conflicted about “who we are.”
So, where in this do we find authenticity? Because, at any given moment, I am authentically different than I was just a day ago.
Perhaps being authentic is “to thine own self be true.” I can buy that one, except with the caveat that “my own self” is a moving target or as Maria Popova put it, “confused and conflicted.”
However, it is a worthy goal to attempt to uncover thine own self. We call this self-awareness. We are each branded with a certain set of deeply ingrained values that drive our everyday thinking and doing. For instance, I must have independence and freedom. I require an inordinate amount of alone time to think and read and write and paint. (Yet, I love engaging with good friends.) And I must be ever filling my insatiable curiosity about life.
Authenticity and Personal Values
Is living according to those values what it means to be authentic, then okay… I guess. What choice do I have? Perhaps there are two “unauthentic” choices: to deny myself my values (which I must sometimes do for the love of others) or to live with the option of constantly trying to please others.
Both are problematic and yet, sometimes necessary as members of society or a family. Or are they? Is it okay if being true to yourself causes great pain to others and yourself? To which I would answer, sometimes yes and sometimes no. (Boy, I’m a big help!)
The tricky issue is being fully assured of what you want according to your so-called values. World-class author Rebecca Solnit wrote, “The things we want are [life-changing], and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that [life-change].”
Like my friend Melanie in Stockholm told me, “The grass is not always greener on the other side, especially if you are watering the grass on this side.” I’m not just referring to relationships but all decisions we make, even like buying a new car.
Now, back to authenticity. I still don’t know what it means. Most of the time whatever I am doing is the authentic me… at that particular time. Hmmm.
“To Thine Own Self Be True”
Unless You’re Not Sure Who Thine Own Self Is
Photo courtesy of amazingmikael at istockphoto
3 thoughts on “The Myth of Authenticity”
Authenticity is an overly-used cliche lacking any real meaning. It just sounds good from the pulpit.
Thanks for being authentic, transparent, about your feelings concerning authenticity!
Such a kind compliment Mike. Thank you.