There seems to be a lot of discussion around keywords such as authentic, narrative, and voice. We’ve all heard Oprah talk about ‘personal truth’. Are we missing something? Is that niggling little voice inside crying out to us? An example: my son picked up his cell phone the other day and said, “This is who we are now.” That unsettled me and got me thinking.
Are we allowing social media, marketing and the ever present 24 hour internet, television, movie, series, umbilical cord that, like it or not, we are attached to, define us? My son seems to think so and I find quite a bit of truth in this.
For an advanced civilization that has no lack of resources and with most of us enjoying well beyond the necessities of life, we are awfully unhappy and unfulfilled. Suicide rates are at an unheard of high and no visit to a physician is complete today without questions not only concerning our physical but psychological and emotional health. We have the means to purchase anything at any time, immediately gratified, yet we are far from content.
We too often define ourselves based on what the ‘likes’ on social media present or what marketers tell us we must have, or what the public figure and celebrity lures us into thinking that like them, we, too, can have it all. Since the advent of Facebook and other platforms, we constantly put our best imagined selves forward: fairy tale marriages, perfect, genius children, and the job of our dreams. But none of it is real, nor authentic.
Ads for prescription meds tell us that no disease is going to slow us down. If your skin is the right color, your hair luxurious and shiny, you drive a particular car, you vacation in all the right locations, you will be the envy of all and life will be perfect.
Wow. Just wow. Deep in our hearts we know this is all a bunch of baloney but we still want to dream the dream. No wonder we need shrinks and anti-depressants! We are not listening to our much more authentic, inner voices.
Authentic people are praiseworthy but odd in our eyes. I still remember a cousin’s remark, when picking me up at the airport, she turned to my mom and said as I appeared in my hijab, “First an opera singer. Now this.” As if to say, I was always weird, right? So much for being my authentic self. Obviously waaaay too out there for my cousin. You buck the status quo and skepticism and ostracizing awaits.
Constructing an inauthentic self stems from worrying about what others will think, say and our need to fit into a group. The fear of being bullied physically, verbally, or emotionally, drive us to safely go with the in-crowd. We don’t want to be that one lone sheep that is easy prey for the wolves. Better to comply and be like everyone else. Except that we never really are like anyone else.
And isn’t that a good thing? Unique, outstanding, pioneer, warrior, hero, and innovator: these are all adjectives that describe people who live authentic lives, have purpose and the rest of the world be damned. Without them, we’d all be a grey, colorless mass, living in ignorance and poverty. Authentic people lead us forward and for the most part, positively. They don’t base their actions and convictions on what others think of them.
How can we then, as Shakespeare so famously states, be true to be our own selves?
Societies run largely based on the status quo, even democratic ones. We are programmed to always consider others, but unfortunately instead of aligning our behavior to the best manners between one another and care, we base so much of what we do, say and think on the opinion of others. Of their opinion of us. It’s an effective tool misused by institutions and even religious bodies. It creates a climate of judgement and condemnation of others and conversely the fear of being on the receiving end of these same things.
The first step in any major lifestyle or habit change is to stop, reflect, and at least realize where we might have an issue that needs to be addressed. To deny helpful criticism, to avoid looking honestly in the mirror and to blame others gets us nowhere. Looking through those posts and selfies and admitting that we all might be going a little overboard projecting that perfect image of our imperfect selves, might be just the way to go.
Unlike those prescription medicine ads that promise us even better than normal lives, there isn’t a magic cure for change. It requires commitment, time, honest appraisals and self-evaluation. But in the long run, we’d all be a lot better for it. More true to our unique selves, and more authentic.
This is often where faith steps in. I know that for me, once I started considering what God thought of me, I ceased caring so much about the opinion of others. Yes to being a good, kind, compassionate human being, ever vigilant about my behavior NOT adversely affecting others. Instead of keeping judgement and negative assumptions as my close companions, I relegated them to the back burner. I became much more forgiving of the slights of others, knowing that they, like me, were fighting their own inner battles and wanting to connect more with their authentic selves.
So how do you become more authentic? Here are a few characteristics of authentic and inauthentic folk:
- Have realistic perceptions of reality.
- Are accepting of themselves and of other people.
- Are thoughtful.
- Have a non-hostile sense of humor.
- Are able to express their emotions freely and clearly.
- Are open to learning from their mistakes.
- Understand their motivations.
This is what it means to be true to oneself.
- Are self-deceptive and unrealistic in their perceptions of reality.
- Look to others for approval and to feel valued.
- Are judgmental of other people.
- Do not think things through clearly.
- Have a hostile sense of humor.
- Are unable to express their emotions freely and clearly.
- Are not open to learning from their mistakes.
- Do not understand their motivations.
Let’s all work toward a future where each of us can be a unique individual, not a copy – an original work of art.