I Cringe When I Hear the Word ‘Authenticity’

I cringe every time I hear someone say “authentic.” It is not the word itself but the pejorated meaning that has come from good intentions. Anytime you are telling the truth, walking the walk, yodeling the yodel, you step into your truth, your true intent, your pedestal of false idols and celebrate you for you – a spiritual awakening is heralded and for me, dawg, it is incongruent. It is my believe that the positive symptoms of being authentic, pardon my French, ought be natural byproducts of good, clean living. There is no cause for celebration for striving to be better than you were yesterday. IT should be expected. And what does this infer the opposite is? Is everyone else – but you and the three people you identify as authentic – everyone else belongs in the recycle bin? Sorry, good luck on your next reincarnation – this life is inauthentic. I never liked Catcher In the Rye but here is Holden Caulfield haunting me with his flippant Phony branding. You’re a phony, I’m a phony, we are all phonies!
This is either a bleak post or a call to improvement. A reminder that when we seek motivation, inspiration, uplift, redemption, renewal it cannot be attained purely by being one’s true self but by exploring who one’s true self is. Applying effort to refine ones’ self had more merit than simply stating that you are authentic. And usually, theis pursuit is only discovered when we look outward in service.
I am reminded that pursuing truth is a journey not a destination (wait for another blog post on that overused metaphor). The pursuit of truth or the pursuit of authenticity is best achieved by quiet observance and application of good. My 16 year old daughter works for Parks and Recreation in the summer months. She is an environmental educator, teaching science lessons to children in parks. Her work crew is partnered up for lesson creation and delivery. She is partnered with a soft-spoken, warm co-worker who she did not know well. He has Down Syndrome and this is his first job. She experienced some challenges in communication and struggled with varying abilities in focus and found creating the lesson plans did not go the way she imagined them to go. She found she had to use some of her talents that she didn’t expect to use. She found she had opportunity to get creative about negotiating which of them did which part of the work. Things that were a distraction for her, were not for him and vice versa. As she explained some of the challenges she passionately insisted these challenges were in no way a reflection of his disability. She passionately championed his ability and as she did that a transformative result came in their lessons. They got them done. Not the way she expected but the kids they taught were educated, inspired and connected to their urban, natural environment in a way they had not been before. And this was by in large because of my daughter and her partner as a team. Success was achieved when she looked at her partner’s needs rather than her own. The kids did not know the behind the scenes lessons learned and obstacles overcome but in the process of the struggle, stronger lessons of becoming were learned. They learned some things did not go well and they had to adjust.
For my daughter she found that just being herself- just being authentic– wasn’t quite enough to reach the end goal. It was a noble starting place but by being candid and graceful and patient and compassionate all at the same time she learned truth– defined here by the needed end result of teaching kids science lessons and learning to interact with a co-worker with different abilities- was not a thing to be. Authenticity didn’t part the waters of knowledge but instead, wrestling with the unknown and committing to the journey towards good helped the goals to be met. Helping others, being helpful yourself and putting forth your best effort today and hopefully better effort tomorrow is a better focus than the inward focus society often brands with authenticity.

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