“This is perhaps the greatest risk any of us will take- to be seen as we truly are.”
Let’s just say it has been a discomforting month.
Any topic which forces you to examine who you are at your core is bound to be a little challenging and this theme of authenticity has over-delivered on anticipations.
My exploration took me from the field of philosophy with Charles Taylor’s examination of the notion in ‘The Ethics of Authenticity‘ to the enjoyable and often hilarious British comedy ‘Miranda‘. I moved through Brene Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead‘ and found inspiration in Hiccup’s counter cultural example in ‘How to Train Your Dragon‘. Richard Rohr rounded out the quest in his spiritually focused ‘Immortal Diamond: The Search for our True Self’.
So what exactly does it mean to ‘be authentic’? Is it an adherence to the current feelings or notions of what is ‘true’ for me right now? At this particular stage in my life I can hit heights of immense love and awe in one moment, and be livid with rage and frustration the very next. Which ‘me’ is the essence that I should identify with?
After a particularly taxing ‘parenting fail’ experience during the month, I came to the conclusion that the Enneagram has a lot to offer in distinguishing the core of my personality type and the external pressures or inspirations that impact upon that. I also delved into the past to figure out why I have clothed myself in the particular persona of ‘nice Emma’ and how I am in the process of shedding that cocoon.
Yet a mere focus on ‘self’ is not a complete answer to the deeper question posed by authenticity.
Charles Taylor puts it beautifully when he proposes:
“There is a certain way of being human that is my way. I am called to live my life in this way, and not in imitation of anyone else’s… If I am not, I miss the point of my life, I miss what being human is for me”.
Taylor suggests that authenticity is the process of discovery (in dialogue with others around us) in “finding the design of my life myself, against the demand of external conformity”. A destination that we can only achieve once we realise that “this sentiment connects us to a wider whole”.
The profound nature of his examination is this: If we each truly were to pursue the concept of authenticity in our own lives, there would be no concept of scarcity, of rivalry, of hierarchy. If every person were to truly realise there is a unique nature to their own experiences, creativity and insights about the world and seek to develop that AND that this is the case for each other human on the planet, we would be able to exist in a peaceful and thriving society.
Rohr echoes this concept and takes it further, proposing each of us possesses a True Self, an imprint of God himself that is as utterly unique as our fingerprint. He says “life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves, but of uncovering the name we have always had”. He affirms the view of Franciscan philosopher, John Duns Scotus who states that each soul has a unique ‘thisness’ and God created “only specific and unique incarnations of the Eternal Mystery- each one chosen, loved and preserved in existence as itself- by being itself”.
That blows my mind.
We spend so much of our lives comparing, shrinking and conforming- scarcely realising we each have something incredible and unique to offer.
If Hiccup had fallen into line behind his imposing Chieftain father, accepting the narrative that he must emulate a ‘proper Viking’ and kill dragons to protect his people, the island of Berk would never have dreamed of the intimacy and thrill of partnering with dragons as their riders. If he had instead felt shame over his non-conformity and allowed that message to overwhelm him, there would be no poignant tale, only the fable of a community driven by fear and violent tradition.
So often we applaud authenticity in others, cheering at the bravery of their vulnerability- but when it comes to our own lives, we cower and second guess our offerings. ‘It’s not original enough’, ‘They could put it so much better than I can’, ‘I don’t have the energy to do it right now’, ‘I’m not creative’… We dampen our message and cast it aside, burying ourselves in the next load of washing or binge watching the latest show on Netflix.
You are the only ‘you’ that will ever exist on this planet.
What inspires you, makes your face light up with delight? How have you suffered and overcome the darkness? What are your stories, your fears, your desires? Damn the shows and the washing, share these gifts with the world around you and embody the ‘you’ that was envisaged from the origin of time!
It will take immense bravery and courage, and there is no guidebook that will set out the path for you, but if we look to each other and celebrate our attempts to unfurl, honouring the diversity that each exposed soul presents, true beauty is bound to emerge.
This piece is part of an exploration of monthly themes as a part of my resolutions for this year. For January’s exposition on Hospitality see here and for February’s exploration of Spirituality see here.