This is one of the more difficult reader suggestions, especially as I have struggled with exactly what this might mean for the past few months, and maybe even years.
Is it authentic to be honest about every emotion we have and let it dominate us?
Is it authentic to embrace every change of heart we experience and every new way of thinking that emerges in our lives?
I am not sure, but my gut says “no” to both of these questions. Authenticity seems to speak to something deeper in us, something that is more foundational than how we are feeling in a given moment or a new thought or influence that enters our lives.
I think authenticity requires being difficult at times.
It requires us to be willing to tell someone we don’t want to talk about something or that we don’t want to participate in something. It requires us to go beyond the false greetings and shallow conversations that our society demands of us and ask difficult questions. It requires us to engage with people on a real level and have real conversations.
Authenticity requires us to let a person’s difficulty with who we are or what we believe remain where it belongs: with them.
It requires us to be willing to sit with difficult emotions and in awkward situations (I don’t really believe in awkwardness, but that is a different conversation).
For me, living authentically often means simply doing what I do, without explanation to those around me.
If someone asks what I am doing or why, I don’t lie, but I don’t feel I obligated to explain everything or to help people be okay with what I am doing in every situation. Sometimes it requires doing what you do in the face of disapproval or rejection.
This isn’t a license to do whatever you want at the expense of others.
I am courteous to those around me and almost always put their needs ahead of my own. If something I want requires me to harm others, I do not think it is an authentic want. I do not believe that any of us, literally no one, wants to harm others at their core level. That desire emerges from the things that happen to people in life. It is a warping of who we are, and I think it can be un-warped. This puts me at odds with the dominant ideology in my area, but, if I am being authentic, I don’t care.
I work hard not to offend others (even though that is something else I don’t really believe in), and I do not try to make others uncomfortable on purpose. I do not like bringing others to discomfort or unhappiness or pain, but if my authentic response in a situation requires these things, I am willing to let it happen. I find that healing and reconciliation with oneself and evolving as a human being often cannot happen without these things.
The most authentic people I know are often the most difficult.
They do not tell me what I want to hear and they do not pretend that everything is okay when it is not. They are also the ones I see making the biggest changes for the better and finding a deeper peace and contentment in the midst of their struggles. They are also the ones I seek out for relationship and for advice on things. I don’t always like what I hear, but I am always able to trust it.
So, maybe the most authentic thing I can say here is that I don’t have a crystal clear picture of what living authentically means, but I am trying to live it out.