Discover challenge: A fool’s paradise


Radical Authenticity

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. 🙂


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10 Responses to Discover challenge: A fool’s paradise

  1. kimannwil says:

    I visit your blog because of your honesty. Refreshing!

  2. AprilEsutton says:

    So much of the authenticity I hear has little to do with how I see the world. My authentic feelings seem to be dismissed. Louder, nastier does not mean more honest and real.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with you.
    I have a brother (I have three, and a sister, but I’m talking about the eldest). I’m the only member of the family who has anything to do with him, because he’s so irritating in so many ways. He has no social sense and is horribly invasive. Our sister says I should dismiss him from my life. I’ve explained that to do so would damage him more than tolerating him damages me. She says that’s not the point. I say it is. If that makes me less than authentic, so be it.
    I’d like to add that, for all his faults, my brother is a good, compassionate man, who loves me. While my life would be easier if he moved to Timbuctoo, I love him in return, and occasionally I even enjoy his company.

    • That’s my other gripe with the whole concept. Your tolerance is just as authentic as your sister’s intolerance, I’d have thought – your authentic desire to treat him kindly. Seems to me there’s a good argument for the fact that everything we do is authentic. My authentic desire to smack my ex s-in-law about the head was outweighed by my reluctance to cause more trouble, which I consider an authentic expression of my protective instincts towards my daughter, but thousands would see as an inauthentic cop-out. People interpret the whole idea to suit themselves, I think, which makes it fundamentally unsound.
      Maybe your brother is somewhere on the autism spectrum and couldn’t change if he tried. Does he deserve to be cut off for that?

      • No, he doesn’t. My brother is high on the autistic spectrum (aspergers?), but most of the family has traits, particularly my sister (I’d say atypical autism, which is tricky).
        I’m pleased to find someone who weighs the pros and cons before acting. It’s becoming increasingly rare. About 3 years ago a family member carried out an act of violent and egotistical revenge on someone who hurt my daughter, and by doing so, hurt her, and the family, even more. If my son-in-law hadn’t done a bit of nifty damage limitation the ripples would have spread out and several other innocent people would have been seriously affected. It would make good fiction, but I can’t use it; it’s too recognisable.

    • I know how tempting knee-jerk reactions can be, but they cause even more trouble so often it’s just not worth it. I was also taught to look at both sides – another dying art I think! It’s always been my belief that GWB would have done well to ask WHY 9/11 happened instead of rushing in with guns blazing, but maybe I’m naive.
      So often, too, if you hold your tongue for a while, things sort themselves out, but I guess that;s something you only learn as you get older.

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