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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The gift of authenticity

“If you tell the truth, you won’t have to remember anything”

~Mark Twain

Mark Twain hit the nail on the head with many of his sayings, but he hit it extra right when he referred to always telling the truth. It is so simple to just be honest, and yet, so difficult. Why? I have been wondering about this over the years, and I came to the conclusion that the way we have been programmed from crib till adolescence lies at the foundation of this behavior. Being authentic – which also entails telling the truth – has almost become an extinct trait, because many of us have become too busy following trends that dictate us what to wear, say, drive, do, or eat, and –even more flagrantly- how to do it. We have landed in an era where it takes the greatest effort to remain ourselves, and forego all the temptations and challenges placed on our path. The biggest problem of being authentic is, namely, that you can get chastised. As Annie Leonard puts it in “The Story of Stuff”: we have become so over-programmed in thinking that everything about us is wrong, and that the only way we can correct this is to shop till we drop, that we actually believe it!

Not being authentic comes in numerous forms, but it mainly expresses itself in unnatural behavior. I can get so disheartened when I see people following trends without wondering if they are even remotely happy doing so, or if these trends are even good for them. The simplest example I can think of at the moment is fashion. I often see young women walking in shorts and jeans that may have looked sexy on the model promoting them, but look absolutely unattractive on them, because these outfits display their physical weaknesses in the most blatant ways. The saddest part of the story is that these women may have paid a lot of money for their mindless behavior, while they could have chosen something that would fit their posture much better, and maybe even set a new trend! But the fashion industry cannot be blamed – and neither can any other industry, media outlet, or social trend - because the choices are ultimately ours.  

Another reason why authenticity has become such an outlandish trait is because of the demands of our workplaces. Since transparency is not customary in our professional world, we are not allowed to be fully open to our co-workers, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. We may, after all, run the risk of sharing too much information, thus jeopardizing our job.

And then there is this factor of getting ahead. People who are still in stages where they depend on others to be helped to the next level have to be extra cautious with what they say and how they say it. They find themselves forced to be politically correct and consider what they say to whom, in order to avoid ruining their career advancement.

The above is just the tip of the authenticity-iceberg, but as you may already see, it makes for a pretty hypocrite human society. The truth of the matter is, that it becomes easier to be authentic when you are either independently wealthy, uncaring about others' feelings, fearless about your career progress, rebellious, or more mature, hence, more progressed in life.
One positive endnote that may reduce any sense of hopelessness within the reader of this piece: there are various ways in which you can be authentic without endangering your relationships or progress. In other words, you can focus on the negative and tell the truth in a hurtful way, or you can focus on the positive and find a tactful manner to present it. For example, if your teacher’s lectures are boring, you can either tell him that he bores you to tears, or come up with some positive suggestions to “make the class more interesting.”

In sum, being authentic is not always easy, but it can make life much more pleasant and rewarding. Authenticity requires courage and awareness of your own value as a person. You don’t have to be part of every fashion trend to matter. You don’t have to participate in every social habit that is “cool” at the moment. And if you have to live beyond your means to be accepted by your friends, it’s time to release them. Authenticity can be a tremendous emancipation – if you let it.
Joan Marques

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