I’ve been thinking about authenticity during the last couple of weeks.
What, exactly, does it mean?
Oxford Online Dictionary defines it as the “quality of being genuine or real.”
It seems simple enough, until one pauses to think about what “real” means, especially in the current cultural and political context of “alternative facts” and disinformation.
Recently I went through all my old photographs from the days when we took our film somewhere and had it developed. As I thumbed through photos of the first fifty years of my life, looking at all those younger versions of myself in the context of family, friends, and places, I was struck (not for the first time) by how one-dimensional a photograph is. One single moment in time recorded visually. As I was there when the picture was taken, I remember the emotional context of those recorded moments, the relationships, the quality of my experience; but showing the pictures to someone else is like taking the cover off a book and trying to convey the story with just that.
We know this, yet we continue to take selfies and be utterly seduced by pretty pictures, nowadays filtered, air-brushed, and otherwise enhanced. Some part of us believes in that fantasy, envies it, longs for it.
Is a picture authenticity?
No, of course not. But my pictures do record visual moments in a real life: My childhood, long-dead pets, family, trips, school years, my first job, my first day at college, and my years raising two sons. A real person experienced all that, but not quite the same real person I am today.
Authenticity, then, changes as we change. We age, we grow, we learn, people around us come and go, we move from place to place.
I think of authenticity as a positive quality, one to aspire to and practice. I admire real people, and find them attractive. In some relationships, however, practicing authenticity is dangerous and severely punished. When children repeatedly experience negative consequences for their authenticity, they are effectively crippled in their ability to self-express and form healthy attachments. In order to survive emotionally, they create a pseudo self.
For some, being real or genuine is a horrifying risk. Here is a quote from Patricia Evans, author of Controlling People:
“I have heard many people … say that even when they use all their strength to maintain patience, to carefully articulate their truth, to share their deepest feelings, to explain their personal reality … they don’t receive understanding but instead encounter disparagement, subtle trivializing, or outright rage. People with excellent communication skills, sensitivity, and honesty can’t “get through.” … the Controller experiences this depth of authenticity as an enormous assault.”
When we are children, our sense of self is curated by the adults around us. Too many children internalize relentless criticism and contempt from their caregivers and carry it into adulthood in the form of a vicious internal critic. In this case, what feels like authenticity becomes a lie based on negative beliefs. The genuine, worthy human being is invisible, especially to him or herself, under a crust of trauma and abuse so old it feels real. Ironically, a palliative for this is to risk authenticity with a healthy other and be able to hear a challenge to the false beliefs obscuring our true selves. Sometimes a loving, compassionate onlooker can see us much more clearly than we see ourselves.
I found an article in Psychology Today about authenticity that was thought-provoking. The author lists qualities of authentic people, including emotional intelligence, the ability to learn, and being able to perceive reality.
Perceiving reality has become an enormous cultural problem recently, as you may have noticed! It makes sense that a person practicing authenticity must be able to recognize what’s real and genuine externally as well as internally.
Being authentic sounds so easy. A simple choice. I haven’t realized before writing this post how difficult it is. We can’t choose it if we don’t know what it is, and discovering what’s real, both inside and outside us, is a daunting challenge.
Authenticity is approached by many paths. The practice of minimalism is one. Peeling away layers of stuff and clutter leads to peeling away toxic habits, thoughts, feelings and beliefs, which helps us peel away weight, addictions, dysfunctional relationships, and a multitude of other unhealthy debris.
Another road to authenticity is creativity. I myself discovered decades ago I’m incapable of expressing anything but truth in my writing, particularly journaling for my eyes alone. Our creative work can expose our deepest selves.
Yet another path is emotional intelligence and healing old trauma. The habits of mindfulness and self-inquiry, the willingness to reveal our scars and wounds and express the truth of our experience to others, help us discern the difference between who we really are, who someone told us we are, who we’re afraid we are, and who we wish we could be.
As I work on my new site (yes, yes, it’s coming!), one of the things I’m working with is reorganizing and recategorizing my content, which amounts to 250 posts. Going through all this content chronologically, starting at the beginning with my first post during the summer of 2016, has been a fascinating and lengthy process. Each post is entirely authentic, but I can clearly see change and progress from week to week, month to month, year to year. The woman who wrote that first post is not quite the woman who writes this one. Yet both are (were) practicing authenticity.
I can’t think of anyone more authentic than a newborn baby. Maybe life is a journey from a state of absolute, completely innocent authenticity, through chaos and identity confusion and enormous cultural and societal pressures, and gradual reclamation of who we were born to be, less innocent, but more fully ourselves, as we grow old.
Certainly, I feel more authentic in this moment than I did when I wrote my first blog post. Will I be more authentic yet in a year? In two years? In five?
Interestingly, my new site says “A Journey Into Power” on the landing page, and authenticity is one of my categories. To be seen, heard, and loved for our real selves is a core human need, a longing we all share.
Sometimes these posts are like puzzles. I pick up fragments in the course of daily life, and I find they all belong to the same idea. Remember doing dot-to-dot puzzles as a kid? I’m never sure what the shape is I’m working on, but I turn the pieces of the puzzle around until I’m satisfied with a coherent (hopefully!) post. It’s fun.
If I was bent on delivering a learned lecture in this post, I would have titled it “Postmodernism.” I’m not interested in lecturing, though, or philosophizing, or exploring current ideas and trends in a scholarly way. Ick. If you’re not sure what postmodernism is, here’s a link. You can educate yourself and draw your own conclusions — always the best way!
As I researched postmodernism I came across a referral to “post-truth.” Huh? Post-truth is “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” (Oxford Online Dictionary)
Truth is a slippery concept, and I’m not interested in debating whether it’s “real” or not. The tension between objective facts, denial and beliefs is a can of worms I have no interest in opening. I do accept science-based inquiry and methodology, particularly if data can be replicated, the process is peer-reviewed, and the funding is clean and unbiased. For me, truth and learning are dynamic, flexible and organic. What might be true for me today may change tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean today’s truth is necessarily a lie.
I don’t accept that belief and truth are the same, and I don’t accept that feelings and thoughts are necessarily objective facts.
The puzzle pieces I have collected this week all fit into postmodernism, but, as usual, I come at it in my own unique (and slightly off-center) way. Here are the pieces, in no particular order:
One of my four most important values and priorities in making choices is to see things clearly; in other words, not to argue with what is, be in denial, or wholly and unconditionally believe in my own stories, assumptions, and feelings. Understand, I validate, value and rely on my feelings, but I’m very aware they don’t always point to the truth. I might feel rejected, for example, but that doesn’t mean I am rejected. It doesn’t mean I’m not, either. The feeling points me toward something needing further exploration, that’s all.
When I say “see things clearly,” I mean accepting what is without fear, resistance, apology, or the need to rewrite or sanitize my experience.
The second puzzle piece is a conversation I had with an approximately 30-year-old man in which I described a relationship that was not working well and what I did about it. His comment was “harsh.” Intrigued, I asked if it would have been better if I’d lied to the other party, or continued the relationship in spite of believing it was unhealthy for both of us. He had no answer for that. I asked if he had a suggestion for a kinder or different way I could have communicated my truth clearly. He had no answer for that one, either. What I was left with was, from his point of view, it was wrong for me to feel the way I did and tell the simple truth about it, without shame or blame, honestly communicating my sadness, my need to part ways, and my caring for the other party.
I’ve thought a lot about this conversation. As regular readers know, I dislike labels and sweeping generalizations, but I wonder if part of his problem with my choice about ending my relationship has to do with the trend in his generation toward postmodernism; that is, that there is no truth, all stories are equal, and to speak “truth” is somehow hateful, bigoted, and/or mean. I’ve even been told stating the truth is “dehumanizing.” Wow.
From my point of view, identifying and speaking the truth is by far the kindest thing we can do for each other and ourselves. Communicating the truth means we are taking responsibility. It means we have the courage to have a difficult conversation face-to-face, rather than ghosting, making excuses, living a lie, or leaving someone with no closure. It means we are healthy enough to take care of ourselves and manage our time and energy, and authentic enough to be heartful and committed in what we choose to do with our lives.
I realize, of course, that some people use the truth as a club, and take no trouble to employ clear, kind language. Shame and blame and refusing to take responsibility are not truthful. Pretending is not truthful. Making excuses is not truthful. Cultivating a pseudo self is not truthful.
The third piece of this particular puzzle was in a book titled Roadwork by Richard Bachman (a.k.a. Stephen King). Here it is:
“But Mary’s footsteps never faltered because a woman’s love is strange and cruel and nearly always clear-sighted, love that sees is always horrible love, and she knew walking away was right and so she walked …”
I’m a fan of King’s writing, and this quote really caught my eye. I stopped reading, bookmarked the quote, and thought about being a mother and all the agonizing choices one makes when raising a child. (The context of the quote has to do with a mother and child.)
It’s terribly difficult (and sometimes terribly painful) to be clear-sighted about our own children. We are forced to make decisions that tear us apart, always striving to do what we think is best and frequently missing the mark. Moreover, having children means we are forced to look at ourselves more clearly for their sake, and that process is humbling, painful, and occasionally terrifying.
I ask myself, is this how King experiences a woman’s love? If so, is it a woman’s love for her child he has his eye on, or a woman’s love in general? Is it terrible love because it’s “clear-sighted,” or because women who love are capable of making horribly difficult choices and sacrifices for the sake of those they love? Is it the love that’s “strange and cruel,” or the clear-sightedness of that love? Or both?
I recently wrote about unconditional love. Is that kind of clear-eyed love “horrible” because it’s so powerful?
I’ve mentioned before somewhere on this blog that in the Tarot deck, which has pre-Christian roots, The Devil symbolizes authentic experience. This indicates to me dealing with the truth is not a new challenge for human beings. Postmodernism is just another cyclical iteration we’ve come up with as we struggle with the truth, misinformation, outright lies, authenticity and pseudo self, the sincere desire of many to be kind and compassionate, and the equally sincere desire on the part of others to control cultural narratives and (dis)information. I’m the first to admire and practice kindness and compassion, but taken too far they become enabling, denial, codependence, pseudo self and abdication of our own self-defense and needs.
The last piece of the puzzle was this link I received to a piece of satire about the “divisiveness” of truth. Satire is not my gig (I have a sneaking suspicion it’s above my head), and I don’t normally enjoy it or pass it on, but this was certainly timely, and it demonstrates the (to me) crazy thinking postmodernism leads to.
It seems to me truth is connecting rather than divisive. I’m wary of anyone who responds to the presentation of an objective or science-based fact with a rant about divisiveness. Those who seek to persuade us there is no truth anywhere, that whatever we believe is Truth, are the ones who are actively divisive. Critical thinking is not about hate, fear, control or manipulation; it’s about seeing the world around us with curiosity and clarity.
So what’s the deal with the demonization of truth, or authenticity, or honesty, or facts, or whatever? Does it have to do with technological cultural influences? Is it connected to our broken educational system? Does our decreasing literacy (TLDR — too long, didn’t read) play a part? Do our burgeoning health problems, poor diets and ever-increasing toxin loads affect our ability to think well?
Have we become so fat, lazy and comfortable we simply don’t want to make the effort to learn, explore, reflect and think critically?
Are we so entitled and selfish we reject unpleasant or unwelcome truths that might threaten our status quo?
Sometimes the truth is painful, inconvenient, and difficult to hear and say. Are we so precious, pampered and cowardly we need everything sugar-coated and artificially flavored and colored in order to deal with it, never mind if it’s truth or lies? (Have you watched any commercials lately?)
I don’t know. The only power I have is what I do with my own life. In my own life, endeavoring to see things clearly, to understand, to excavate what’s true for me at any given point in time and put it into effective, clear, responsible language and action, are paramount. Objective facts matter. History matters. Science is important. I value literacy, learning, education and professional expertise.
I’ve spent much of my life people pleasing and enabling the destructive behavior of others. I’ve spent much of my life assiduously cultivating what I thought was an acceptable pseudo self. I lacked the courage and support to face my own truths in the privacy of my head, let alone speak them to others. I allowed others to bully, manipulate and punish me for seeking objective facts. I allowed myself to be the target of gaslighting and projection.
I remember the first time I stood on a high diving board as a kid. The safe haven of the water was impossibly far away. I did eventually jump, but I stood, hesitating, for a long time.
Beginning to blog was like that. Could I manage the technological learning curve? Would I have time to do a good job? Did I have anything to say? Would I have to deal with spammers, hackers, hecklers and hate mail? Would anyone read it? And, the biggest Boogeyman of all, what would people think when I revealed who I really am?
I researched. I read dozens of articles on blogging. I made lists of do’s and don’ts. I bought a book on blogging.
I hesitated. I worried. I doubted myself. I clung to limits, obstacles and fears.
Then, in the middle of a personal and emotional catastrophe, the very last time I would have chosen or planned such a risky, frightening new endeavor, I suddenly started. I suppose I felt I had nothing more to lose.
This summer I’ve been taking stock of what I’ve created, what I’ve learned, my long list of mistakes and my intentions for the future. I’ve been a member of She Writes and Medium. I follow several other bloggers. I went into my Favorites and deleted most of my Blogging folder and then started filling it up again with new articles on Intermediate blogging.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of articles about blogging on the web. What I notice is 19 out of 20 are geared to successful blogging, which is to say blogging with the most possible likes, looks, shares, clicks, referrers, subscribers, advertising and side bar businesses, all of which can translate directly into income for the blogger. The Holy Grail is to go viral with your blog. To this end, the advice is repetitive. Use sentences of five words or less. Use short paragraphs of two or three sentences. Use lots of images, video, bullet points, colors, fonts and section titles. Keep your posts short and to the point. Carefully construct a title that will result in as many clicks as possible. Convince the reader you have something of value they need. Don’t be emotional or personal. You can’t be successful unless you have several active social media accounts.
I read, saved, took a few notes, and then realized I didn’t want to do most of what these articles said I should do. I paused and thought about that for a couple of days. I looked at my stats. I talked with my partner. I groped for a bottom line.
I absolutely love blogging/writing.
Because when I do it I’m real. Every single week I write about something real. Most weeks I struggle with what other people might think, but at the end of the struggle I again choose to be seen. I stare down that fear of using my voice and speaking up. I’m taking my power back, week by week, post by post, line by line.
Blogging and writing are my way of building bridges and fostering connection, to myself, to others, and to life. It’s the medicine I can offer to aid in healing. It’s my hug, my love letter to the world, my kiss of peace. It’s my outstretched hand, regardless of whether or not others choose to clasp it, ignore it or spit on it.
Photo by Alona Kraft on Unsplash
My feeling of success about writing a book and creating a blog isn’t attached to any of the general markers of success among bloggers. We have all kinds of programs that help us gather statistics on the web, but my heart doesn’t thrill to hundreds of clicks or fall if there are only five. None of these stats tell me anything about the quality of my contribution to my readers, and that’s the only stat that interests me. I don’t have anything to sell you. I don’t assume I have anything of value to you. I never expected to make money on my blog.
I just am. Myself is all I have to give, and what I really want from you is just … you.
I’ve been honored to achieve simple connection with others through Our Daily Crime. Some I know about, because people comment. I may be making other connections that remain invisible to me. Contrary to the best advice, I don’t have social media accounts. I don’t have a Facebook page. If a reader connects with my words or finds some kind of value in the experience I share and doesn’t comment or email me, I don’t know anything about it, but I have faith. I believe there are others out there who think about relationships, empowerment, being a woman, and what it means to be alive on Earth today. I believe there are readers who can deal with sentences more complex than five words and read a paragraph of several sentences. I think a post about rules for success should be titled, clearly and honestly, Rules For Success. I’m not a click bait engineer.
I don’t regret a minute of research or reading I’ve done about writing and blogging, and I wish those writing advice the success they seek. They’ve helped, especially their content that I couldn’t use. All those rules set off a lot of feelings. I hardly ever met a rule I didn’t want to challenge, and my feelings showed me the way into my own definition of success.
I find it useful to have goals and intentions, to know what kind of outcome I want, but the fact is I don’t always know. Some things are so unknown and such a personal leap of courage or faith that to insist on exactly defined goals before beginning is to never take action. Jumping inelegantly off the high dive into blogging was all I could manage last summer. I couldn’t define an audience, a goal or an intention, except that I was damned if I would let fear stop me from trying. It’s only now, 50 posts later, that I begin to understand what I’m up to, and it’s not necessarily the same as what other bloggers are up to.
Here’s my favorite story about success. This version is from One Bird One Stone by Sean Murphy.
For 40 years, a fisherman in China used a straight needle to fish. When someone asked him, “Why don’t you use a bent hook to fish with?” he replied, “You can catch ordinary fish with a bent hook, but I will catch an extraordinary fish with my straight needle.”
Word of this came to the ear of the Emperor, and he went to see this fool of a fisherman for himself. Laughing at the sight of the fisherman’s straight pin, the Emperor asked, “What are you fishing for?”
The fisherman said, “I’m fishing for you, Emperor.”
Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash
Thank you for reading my blog. You’ve helped make it a success.
This morning, as we cooked breakfast together, My partner informed me about the new trend of buying dirty jeans at $425 a pair.
Photo by Andrew Loke on Unsplash
As usual, I feel painfully out of step with the culture. I feel angry. I feel lonely. I feel flawed in some deep, irrevocable way because of what I want. I grieve for the loss of connection with what I can touch, smell, taste, look at, hear and be held by.
Yet there was a significant response to last week’s post, which indicates to me I’m not as alone as I feel.
It seems to me we’re increasingly distanced from one another, increasingly divided. The culture says we’re more connected and have access to more information than ever, and in a manner of speaking that’s true. We’re more technologically connected than ever. We’re more connected with word and symbol than ever. In fact, our heightened connectivity is creating new languages of emojis, emoticons, like and dislike buttons, and shortcut language that accommodates the limitations of tweets and texts.
Yet we live in technological enclaves that are every bit as rigid as physical neighborhoods and districts in a city. If, like me, we don’t have a cell phone — well, we’re out of the texting conversation. We’re invisible. We don’t count. We’re silenced. Ditto if we don’t have access to Internet or aren’t on social media, or don’t have an email. If we don’t play on the technological playground, we’re depersonalized and disconnected — literally.
But words, pictures, profiles and emoticons can lie. Language includes communication that only occurs with physical presence. Without physical presence, we can’t discern lies from truth. Our power is so damaged we routinely swallow just about everything the culture, media, advertising and our “friends” tells us.
For example, professional women can’t succeed if they don’t adhere to social standards of businesslike attire, clothing and makeup. If you don’t believe me, look it up on any of your tech devices. It’s not hard to find this “fact,” both directly stated and implied. Let me just repeat that, to make sure you got it.
If we’re a woman who doesn’t buy and use makeup, we can’t succeed in the business world. Everybody says so. Everybody believes it. Everybody makes it true by enforcing it each and every day with words, buying choices, advertising, blogs and articles, all courtesy of technological connectivity and manufactured consent. In 2015, the United States was considered the most valuable beauty and personal care market in the world, with a market value of 80 billiondollars.
I’d say that’s pretty successful manufactured consent, wouldn’t you? Pat yourself on the back if you wear makeup, because your hard-earned money is somewhere in that 80 billion dollars. Well done. Do you feel successful and powerful now? Someone does.
If we’re on Facebook, we have friends, a community, a popular vote of “likes.” We don’t have to deal with morning breath, a wet spot on the mattress, different schedules and rhythms, dirty bathrooms, greasy stoves, or any of the small idiosyncrasies and habits real people have. We don’t have to reveal our physical bodies, our insecurities and our wounds. The worst rejection we risk is being blocked or unfriended. We don’t have to learn how to accept, live with and perhaps even appreciate (perish the thought!) different points of view or opinions. We don’t have to be challenged, stretched, or have our dearest beliefs threatened.
Pressing a button is so much easier than all the messy consequences of authentic connection.
Photo by Alessio Lin on Unsplash
We never have to risk being real at a technological remove. No one can blow our cover. We never have to face ourselves; take responsibility for our words, views or choices; or endure the difference between the way we wish to be and the way others actually experience us. Or, alternatively, we can come out of hiding, feel safe behind the screen, and finally allow all our hate and rage off the leash.
Our culture tells us power and success equal carefully constructed pseudo self profiles, the latest technological gadgets, social media accounts, likes, followers and “friends.”
The culture teaches that power and success are achieved by buying things and the possession of money. Now there’s a circular game of empty addiction we can never win and sellers never lose!
Power and success are ours if we participate fully in manufactured consent. Would anyone like to buy a pair of dirty jeans? Guaranteed power and success!
Yet how many of us truly feel powerful and successful? Are we there yet? If we’re not there, we will be after we buy just one more thing, right? Or perhaps we need to make just a little more money, or lose a little more weight, or finally find the “right” mate.
If we’re well connected technologically, our needs are all met, yes? We have a tribe, a community in which to laugh, cry, celebrate, mourn and share our authentic selves. We have physical reassurance and bonding. Our relationships are based on authenticity, reciprocity and respect. We feel seen, heard and known.
Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash
I don’t think so. I don’t think tech meets all our needs for authentic connection. I think it more often swallows us up and absorbs us. It’s a toxic mimic for the real thing, more controllable and less risky, and we the sheeple have been groomed to buy every toy that’s put in front of us. We’ve forgotten to look up and notice there’s another human being in the room, in the bed or at the table. That’s the power of manufactured consent.
It doesn’t surprise me that Baba Yaga spoke to so many last week. We’ve sterilized what she represents right out of our modern culture. All her outrageous, provocative, profane, rebellious, insubordinate, irreverent, passionate, authentic attributes have been pushed underground, where her spirit lurks, watching, cackling, stirring her cauldron, sucking on bones and waiting for us to remember her and summon authentic power and connection again.
Authentic connection has a scent of living tissue and breath. It’s texture and heartbeat. It communicates with word, action, and the silent language of the body. It doesn’t allow us to shut our eyes, stop our ears or press a button and dismiss uncomfortable tension.
Authentic connection reveals us to ourselves and to others. It isn’t muffled, sterilized or distorted by keyboard or touchpad. It’s defined by visible action and choice. It demands priority and time. It requires real participation, with heart, body and presence. Authentic connection makes us weep. It makes us bleed. It makes us laugh. It awakens our rage. It heals us and makes us whole. It’s messy, unpredictable, confusing, demanding, imperfect, and reminds us at every turn of the limits of our power. It forces us to communicate and then holds us accountable for what we say — and what we don’t.
Most of all, authentic connection is not something we can buy — ever. No one and nothing can give it to us. Our only access to it is through ourselves. We’re a nation of prostitutes, viewing, clicking, scrolling, buying and surfing, but the only ones profiting are the pimps who cash in on our hunger for something real and our addiction to everything not-real.
Yet Baba Yaga is on the move, sowing seeds of divine rebellion into the cancer of manufactured consent and patriarchy, deprogramming one woman at a time. Even now she’s flying on the spring wind in her mortar, using a pestle as a rudder, searching for all those women who long for something real.