Authenticity has become a buzzword tossed around social media too casually. We aspire to be authentic, we claim we are authentic. Or, at least, I’ve never met someone who claims to be inauthentic–though I suspect many of those who claim authenticity but are actually inauthentic.
What is authenticity? To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, I know it when I experience it.
Sometime, I think we confuse authenticity with our style or our personal branding. We may present ourselves a certain way, we may have a persona we present to others, for example the language we use, how we dress, the enthusiasm or manner in which we communicate to others.
In fact, virtually all the elements of style or personal branding, probably aren’t good surrogates for authenticity. Authentic and inauthentic people can present themselves with the same passion or excitement or even conviction. They can use similar language, they can act in similar ways. They can both appear to be equally sincere or insincere.
I don’t believe those are indicators or authenticity. For example, we tend to associate being passionate about something as authentic. Yet an inauthentic person can present themselves with the same passion.
Authenticity is really about character, it is about that which underlies what an individual says or does. It is about who we really are, not necessarily who we want people to believe we are.
Inevitably, when people try to portray themselves in a manner that is inconsistent with who they really are, it becomes a challenge to both the person in sustaining the facade, and to those around the individual who see the cracks, the inconsistencies–perhaps coming to not trust that individual.
I think one of the foundations of authenticity is personal mastery. As Senge comments in the Fifth Discipline, “Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.”
, “Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.”
The degree to which one seeks to be authentic, is impacted by their continued quest to learn and develop. It is impacted by their ability to be open to differing points of view, constantly trying to see things and people for what/who they are, not what want them to be.
Stephen Joseph summarizes qualities of authentic and inauthentic people in his Psychology Today article:
- Have realistic perceptions of reality.
- Are accepting of themselves and other people.
- Are thoughtful.
- Have a non-hostile sense of humor.
- Are able to express their emotions freely and clearly.
- Are open to learning from their mistakes.
- Understand their motivations – they are true to themselves.
By contrast, inauthentic people:
- Are self deceptive and unrealistic in their perceptions of reality.
- Look to others for approval and to feel valued.
- Are judgemental of other people.
- Do not think things through clearly.
- Have a hostile sense of humor.
- Are unable to express their emotions freely and clearly.
- Are not open to learning from their mistakes.
- Do not understand their motivations — their defensiveness and self deception prevents them from being true to themselves.
Clearly, each of us has elements of authenticity and inauthenticity, which is why the concept of continuous focus on personal mastery is so important if we choose to seek authenticity.
But I am left with one question, “Is an authentic person necessarily a ‘good’ person?”
Afterword: My thanks to Keenan for stirring up my thinking about this.