This week, I’m thinking a lot about authenticity. My focus on this word first emerged when I was talking with a friend – a fellow awakening consciousness activist. Darci is organizing a fundraiser in November for Challenge Denver. The event will center around their anti-bullying work. When I was talking with Darci, I asked her “What do you aspire to for this event. By ‘aspire’ I meant what life affirming qualities and energies does she want to give rise to/breathe into the event? Together, we considered compassion, forgiveness, love and authenticity. Why authenticity? Because bullying often manifests insecurity – people being uncomfortable with who they are. The reaction to such discomfort is to be aggressive towards others – undermining others in their attempts to be who they are. Having worked twenty years in social change, I don’t recall that I have often heard the word authenticity. This is a shame – because social change is a creative process and being authentic is crucial to expanding our collective creative potential.
My focus on authenticity deepened a few days after I talked with Darci, when I had a reunion with my junior high Language Arts teacher, Mary Ann Leigh (please do check out her website – she now makes beautiful pottery). Mrs Leigh told me a story of how in her final year of teaching this class – which she taught for ten years – she asked her students each to write for her a letter telling how they experienced the class. Each letter, in one form or another, said to her that what students really loved about the class was the way that it encouraged each student to “Be who I am.” As you can perhaps imagine, when she told me this story, I bounced up and down in my seat and squealed: “Of course – Authenticity!”
A few days after talking with Mrs Leigh, I was talking with Christian David Flores-Carignan who works for Rebellious Truths out in Southern California. Last month, in collaboration with World in Conversation Project, they held a Sounds of Truth Festival (which I intend to write about soon). As Christian and I talked, I mentioned authenticity. I was saying how I’m increasingly seeing that an important dimension of being Spirited is being authentic. And, of course, the more authentic we are as individuals, the more expansive our collective creative potential becomes – assuming we respect, value, embrace one another’s authenticity.
At some point I said to Christian “You know – that’s the thing here in the US. We talk about being the land of the free, the brave, the land of the INDIVIDUAL. But the cult of individualism here in the US shouldn’t be confused for an endorsement of authenticity. We love conformity, which is at odds with authenticity, no? I am fully aware I’m making sweeping statements here – the US is diverse and we have all sorts hugely creative, vibrant communities and individuals scattered across the country doing their own thing – trying to live authentically. But I think it is fair enough to suggest that generally we are a pretty conservative culture that discourages true individuality. Instead, it promotes individualism, which tends to mean ‘being out for yourself’, looking out for number one, getting ahead of the Joneses – rather than meaning be the unique human being you are.
And what do I mean by authenticity? I mean being true to your Spirit – but that doesn’t really clarify, does it? Authenticity has origins in Greek authentikos – “one acting on onte’s own authority.” I love this definition – it means if I am being authentic, I’m writing the script that I am following – not using a script written by someone else, not going by a sense of how I think I should be acting. If we are acting from our own authority, we are consciously manifesting our truth- our Spirit – through our actions and in distinct ways. We are also being respons-able (rather than re-active – behaving compulsively, without consciousness). In this way, authenticity – for me – is intrinsically a life-affirming and energizing quality.
We claim that the United States is a country where you write your own destiny – but how attuned are we really to being authentic? Growing up in the seventies and eighties (notwithstanding having Mrs Leigh as a teacher) “Be all that you can be” was something I associated with an ad slogan for the US military – with regiment and conformity! And certainly, I felt that I was often receiving the message: “Don’t be the unique human being you are, at least not if it is going to interfere with your success. Be who you are means do what it takes to SUCCEED – to gain material wealth and social status.”
Bullies get created when people feel uncomfortable with who they are – when they feel insecure. Bullying reflects a lack of courage. Bullying creates prisons – for those being bullied and those doing the bullying.
In this land of the free and brave, what is the role of authenticity in our culture? How much more free and how much more brave might we be if we became more committed to growing a culture of authenticity? What kind of collective creative potential could we have – could any community (large or small) have, if it/they/we embraced authenticity for the life-affirming, energizing quality that it is?
How authentic are you in your life? How authentic are you in your social change activism? What would it take for you to live more authentically? What would be the advantages be of living a more authentic life?
Right on. The way I see it, reflection comes first. People need to ask themselves about the meaning of their lives and about what matters and why. They need to ponder how we determine right and wrong and what the significance of ethics is. That reflection will lead to a perception of the hypocrisy within our society. At this point one has a choice to conform to the hypocritical established systems or go about life in another way. The first option requires great mental repression; the second option requires great courage, persistence, and intelligence (not necessarily a high IQ, but a high ability to learn in a humble and critical way). We CAN create a culture of authenticity if enough people come to the realization of its value, muster up the bravery to start living it, and develop the entrepreneurial spirit to collaborate with other to create alternative institutions based on authenticity. Oh how I want people to understand that it is ridiculous to NOT live an authentic life. One’s life is so goddamn precious. It is everything. How could one choose not to live this precious finite life to the fullest? How could one choose to waste this amazing infinity of opportunities? How could one choose to live a life of inevitable routine sacrifice? Only through unreflectiveness and fear. But that is no way to live, and everyone needs to recognize that.
Great post Veena, and I wholeheartedly agree with your comments Christian.Authenticity is something I think about a lot, and talk about sometimes. I find it difficult to work with people who I feel aren’t behaving authentically. It was interesting to me that you ask about collective, creative potential in relation to authenticity. I’m currently involved in activity with people from voluntary and community groups and public sector organisations which I’m calling collaboration (maybe event creative collaboration if we can get that far). We’re asking people to think about collaboration, and how to collaborate in empowering ways. And then we want to work with them to put that in to practice around some defined projects. What frustrates me a lot is that (I think) people from all sorts of organisations prevent themselves from acting authentically, or even speaking authentically, I guess because there is a tension between what they actually think and what they think the organisation wants them to say or do. (In making this comment I’m reminded of Liam’s More Like People thinking: http://www.concretesolutions.org.uk/?p=1317). I’m worried that genuine collaboration will be hampered by power dynamics which, amongst other things, stifle authenticity. Maybe I should start some discussions around this. Thank you.
Lorna (@dosticen) and Christian (@truthnprogress) – Thank you so much for your comments -We all seem to be asking- as does Liam (@hackofalltrades) – How do we become authentic in our social change activities? What are the conditions that allow for it? That prevent it? Lorna, I’m inclined to suggest you ask your colleagues/partners ‘What do you aspire to when you think of being in collaboration?" And by ‘aspire’ I mean – what do they want to give rise to, what qualities and energies do they think will breathe (aspire means ‘to breath into’) life into their collaborations? How can they breathe those qualities and energies into their collaborations? Perhaps, of course, start by asking yourself this question! If you do put such questions out there, I’d love to know the reactions/responses!! Peace and love.
Thanks VeenaGreat questions, I will spend time reflecting on what my responses are – and this is great timing as I’m just planning some communications around this work. I’ll also try to use the questions when working with others and let you know how I get on.
Lorna (@dosticen) – RAH!!! Glad you like the questions and I look forward to hearing how it all goes. You are a bold and inspiring sister!!! Such a wonderful gift you are to your organization. Peace and love.