First, I should probably confess that authenticity is one of those words that’s likely to make me roll my eyes.
It is, of course, a perfectly good word if left alone to mean what it’s always meant: of genuine origin. An authentic Rolex, for example, as opposed to a rip-off. But now that it’s become a buzz word applying to people, it has acquired a whole new raft of nuances and implications, and a status as a holy grail in our search for ‘happiness’.
But perhaps this is where my natural scepticism comes in. I have lived long enough to see holy grails come and go, and the same holy grails renamed and recycled to the huge financial benefit of their sponsors, but not much else. This above all: to thine own self be true, Shakespeare said, and that was a long time ago.
What bothers me most about all the buzz words that have slipped in and out of fashion in our search for ‘happiness’ is that they all speak to and encourage a colossal, all-encompassing egocentricity. Authenticity is no exception. Its champions would have us believe that being true to ourselves at all times will result in a blissful inner peace – a sense of wellbeing that transcends the vicissitudes of daily life. We must, it appears, look ever inward and express what we find there. The corollary to which, if we’re being realistic, is and to hell with everyone else. Because I don’t know about you, but my inner self is not always overflowing with sweetness and light, and while expressing my inner negativity might be wonderfully cathartic for me, it’s unlikely to be a positive experience for those around me.
And that’s the trouble with authenticity in its current incarnation. We live in society, and what we do inevitably affects those around us, just as what they do affects us. It would not be realistic or kind to be truly ‘authentic’ every minute of every day. Which of us is going to wear their vulnerabilities in public for all to see and the less scrupulous to use to their advantage? Which of us with a modicum of human decency is going to spew the sort of vitriol we are occasionally tempted to spew at those who annoy us at the wrong moment?
Well in answer to the last question, a few people, it seems. Social media has become a platform for those embracing what they’ve been led to believe is their God-given right to be as nasty as they like in the name of ‘authenticity’. Although a different group of people is seeking this holy grail from the opposite direction: if authenticity is the path to true happiness, then making our happy Facebook personas authentic will kill both birds with the same stone.
Which is, I suppose, where Mindfulness comes in – that other fashionable buzz word used to enable Authenticity: a total focus on the realities of the present moment to banish the evils of distraction and fool us into thinking that ongoing bliss is possible. But anyone who has ever used a pressure cooker will know that unless you release the valve from time to time, you’re going to end up with spaghetti Bolognese on the ceiling. The same is true of Mindfulness. Unless you deal with the pressures that life will inevitably hand you, you are going to blow, and all the raindrops on all the roses in the world are not going to get the spag bol off your mental and emotional ceiling.
I have always tried to be honest – to be genuine in my dealings with other people. But this was never a holy grail – a buzz word – a fashion. It was a basic expectation of my upbringing: not a personal search for happiness, but fundamental responsibility we owe automatically to the society we live in.
Over time, social responsibility has paled into insignificance in the face of personal gratification – our ‘rights’ and ‘entitlements’. It wasn’t difficult to convince us to change our focus. We’re all selfish at heart. I’m sure even Mother Theresa’s lifetime of service to others was not untinged with personal satisfaction. But until we stop looking inwards and start looking beyond ourselves to the damage our egocentricity has done to society, the mess we’ve made of the world will continue to worsen, and it will be our own fault.
In my opinion. 🙂