Being Authentic


People are not typically authentic.

That statement is meant to be provocative – it doesn’t mean to imply you are a fraud.

More accurately, we don’t live in a social environment that allows authenticity.  To think we collectively agree on maintaining this situation is the stuff of morbid desperation.

Our day is usually a farcical mess of reactions, judgments, impulses and, in general, socially oriented angst.

I do this to fit in. I was conditioned to fit in from the day was pulled from nothingness into “this”. Your parents, regardless their words and actions, were programming you for a form of behavior which was meant to be judged and critiqued by society at large.

One need only take time to look around and watch the unity of behavior and speech, belief, value and thought of those around us to see this. People seek safety in unity.

People seek refuge from uncertainty in social consensus.

They do not think, act, respond or speak in a way that is in keeping with their core beliefs. In fact, most people don’t really have a set of core beliefs … they speak and act in accordance with their immediate audience.

This may come across as an arrogant or short sighted thing to say, but it’s reflective of what most philosophers who have investigated this idea over the centuries have come to view as being “authentic”.

When we are authentic, we may not be happy, but we are acting and speaking in unison with a consistency of narrative. That is, with a consistency of truth to self. The more we act in accordance with our core belief system, the more conditioned this authentic behavior becomes.

We will encounter hateful opposition, we will lose potential opportunities, we will lose money and countless other forms of material gain as we follow a path toward authentic selfhood.

Whenever we look at something new in life, whether it’s some new fad activity or belief, we’re forced to measure it against our authentic self. This exercise of measurement, of critical thinking, is not conditioned and should never be. Some philosophers of logic differentiate thinking by calling mundane thinking “normative” thinking, and the type of thinking called for in measuring authenticity, critical thinking.

We then act, and our actions will have social consequences. Some individuals authentic beliefs and actions generate many friends and followers. Others generate loneliness.

It’s important that we avoid surrounding ourselves with people who are inauthentic. This is the same as any habit – their lack of selfhood will rear it’s head at some point and you’ll realize they never really cared about you anyway (how could they? they have no basis to.)

Connecting this to Buddhist thought isn’t too hard. The best way to think of Western ideas of authenticity, as extolled by Heidegger, Sartre and Rousseau, is to think of the Buddhist/Zen notion of “Virtue”. I know a young woman, for instance, who is always doing or saying things to generate favorable thoughts from those around her – her intent is good it seems, she seeks what Buddhists call “Merit”. But merit is not the same as virtue.

Merit is to Virtue as Rebellion is to Authenticity. Being “generally rebellious” does not equate to authenticity. Authenticity moves through the lifespan and beyond, as does merit. Rebellion and the accumulation of merit end when life ends. One is our essence, the other, a temporary fixation.

Every day I try to clarify what my real value system is and I seek to break away from potential thoughts and actions which drive me from my deeper essence – the one I know I’ve had since I could begin to think. My instinct tells me, my conscience tells me if I listen. When I fail, I try to practice critical thinking to understand what circumstances tricked or separated me from this “authentic version” of myself.




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