Authenticity: Where Has It Gone?

authenticity: the quality of being genuine and real; honest with yourself and with others; your values, ideals and actions align

As we begin a new decade in which truth is a moving target, empathy is a sign of weakness or disloyalty, honesty is less a virtue than a liability... it is altogether appropriate to take a minute and step back from the conflict to reflect on our authenticity.

Authenticity is a big word...

It's a powerful word. It’s about who we really are at our core... what we really believe in. I contend that over the last decade, authenticity has taken a big hit.

Humans have always been prolific at hiding their true feelings, beliefs and aspirations... from early man biting his lip watching clan leaders claim the best sleeping place in the cave and the best food for themselves... to slaves suppressing their humanity to survive oppression... to talented women watching stupid men advance in careers they didn’t deserve... to lonely teens creating exaggerated avatars of themselves on social media trying to fit in or stand out... hiding one’s true authentic self has always been a human frailty or a necessary coping mechanism.

But something is different now.

The breadth and the depth of hiding behind masks has proliferated at an alarming rate. And the grievances, despair and hopelessness of not feeling that there is much we can do about it as our authentic self to improve our lives, or the lives of our families, breeds an impotence that leads to masking up to feel more powerful and in control.

I contend that much of the divisive politics of today is driven by grievance and suppressed feelings of impotence... not feeling in control of our lives. We look for others to blame because we cannot accept that we have so little control in a complex world.

We look for leaders who, from behind masks, promise “better,” reinforce our belief that “others” are to blame, and exude the toughness to “get things done.” Then we feel more aggrieved when life doesn’t get much better and we see others living the life we aspire to but can’t reach.

Is it any wonder that we grow more and more distrustful of “leaders” promising “better” without delivering it?

Society cannot work if the chasm between haves and have-nots not only isn’t bridged, but it gets wider every passing day.

Aspiration is one of the core human attributes. When aspiration is suppressed... especially when the view across the chasm to lives of privilege is so clearly shown by an omnipresent media... when self-serving manipulation of the system by the rich and powerful gets more revealed every day... is it any wonder that the powerless seek more power to improve their lives?

We put on masks and join tribes that have “answers...” that exude power in their rhetoric, their uniforms of power, the defiance of their leaders, their guns. Yet in the back of our authentic self’s mind is a questioning if the tribe’s leaders really have the tribe’s best interests ahead of their own.

I believe that despite all of the divisiveness we see every day, there is a common humanity behind all the masks... each of us with an authentic self that longs for that which we all aspire to... a celebration of family and friendship... the dignity of work... aspiration for a better life... a life of purpose, meaning and fulfillment... a confidence that we can make life better for our children.

Democracy is under assault across the world.

Autocrats, with well-tailored masks, are promising, as Mussolini did, that autocracy can make the trains run on time... to get things done. But for the benefit of whom? Democracy is messy... always will be. And unless democracy’s leaders can find the courage and wisdom to defy autocratic bullies and deliver real value to their citizens that will empower their aspirations, autocrats are poised to step in and promise what citizens want to hear – despite no intention to sacrifice their privilege for the benefit of the people they “lead.”

It’s getting harder and harder to be authentic in this world... and harder still to see behind the masks of those who proclaim they have the answers to how to power up our under-powered lives.

This is an upsetting and dangerous period of world history.

We may feel helpless to fix it. But we CAN do something productive as an individual to make our world better. We can consciously and deliberately strive to feed and encourage our authentic self.

We can put aside our masks that we think can improve our power in the world and, instead, share love, gratitude, empathy, kindness, strength of character and confidence in our authentic self’s ability to make a difference.

We can independently take charge of our life, free from the self-serving motivation of those who would exploit our anxiety about the future for their own gain. We must search out, identify and nourish leaders who genuinely care about our well-being even more than their own. It’s hard. But it’s essential if democracy is to not only survive, but thrive.

We don’t need masks.

Authenticity is NOT a weakness. And we must NOT give in to the easy answers promised by those whose mask hides little concern for our well-being.

At our core, we are all capable of finding the strength to empower our authentic self to lead us on this turbulent path of life. We must find the courage to unmask and see the authentic inner strength and character that will be our guide.

We CAN do this.

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