Authenticity and Courage [Is It Just Doing Nothing?]
Authenticity is such a hot potato. People have such powerful reactions to any claim to be authentic. What is the issue with this? Why are people so afraid of claims of authenticity? What is authenticity?
The problem stems from people using authenticity as a badge of honour. If I reveal my darkest thoughts I can claim to be authentic. I am bad and admit it so I must be authentic. This, for me does not get to the heart of the matter. Authenticity is about more than baring my soul, it is about being totally honest with myself and with others.
Authenticity as a Choice
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.
If I really admit it, by Brené's definition I am rarely authentic. I make choices every day and frequently those choices involve me in some measure of holding back, of not saying what I really think. This is not about telling the truth, this is about being seen for everything I am, for the whole of me. I rarely have the confidence to reveal every part of me. I have a lingering fear of being judged. I wonder what people will think or say if I reveal everything. I want to keep something about me to myself.
Even more important is the question of revealing everything I think about another person. Why would I want to reveal everything I think about another person? Perhaps I just think that to be authentic I should be honest about the whole of my thoughts. Maybe I think that they should know it all because it would help them? Maybe I am just arrogant enough to think that what I think matters that much?
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!
This might be relevant and necessary in court but I do not live there. I live in the real world full of decisions to make about my interactions with other people. I make assessments all the time about me and others in order to create an optimal situation.
The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.
For me the answer is to leave behind all the stuff about thoughts and truth and follow Jung in becoming who I truly am. This is not about what I reveal or what I say, it is about who I portray myself as. Do I create a persona that I set out as the real me or do I just behave as me, unadorned, open and honest? I believe I say more by being silent than by speaking. I find that my energy speaks volumes. My body language, my facial expressions, my energy are all about me inside. Being authentic is about being congruent with what these say. Being authentic is just being.
In finding clarity, however, I need to be sure of my boundaries, how I see them and what they mean to others. I have often felt the urge to exert control, the need to get people to listen to me. What I did not realise was that it was all about boundaries, my boundaries. What took many years for me to discover was that I could only control myself, not others. To lead others I needed to be seen to be in control of myself. Learning to control myself, I realised, is about setting boundaries, something that is not as simple as it seems.
There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.
I can imagine the wall being built, crudely, before the builder had any skills. It was rough but it was confident. When it came to the road, the way that was open and used by many people, it lost its strength. The idea was there, the imaginary line, but it had not been marked, either with wall or gate. The line did not really exist.
This is what boundaries were like for me. They were built early because of childhood events. They were built before I understood their significance. They fell apart as I interacted with other people. I lost confidence and I became upset. What I forgot was what the wall meant to those on the outside. I knew the inside, I saw it all the time, but I forgot that it looked different on the outside.
The Other Side
What I found difficult was how to see my boundaries from the other side. I resorted to blaming others for what happened. I knew my side, I knew I was justified in what I was doing, I knew the world was against me. The world I saw, the world out there, I discovered, was the world I created. I saw the world as against me because I only saw things from my point of view. I only saw the inside of the wall.
I create my world myself, it is not created by the actions of others. This is a crucial issue, one that is at the heart of boundary setting. I decide what I will do, not others. If I am doing what others want it is because I have decided to do so. I cannot blame others for what happens to me, and I cannot punish them for it.
The authentic self is the soul made visible.