For (or Against) Authenticity?

The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible.
What the second duty is, no one has as yet discovered.

~Oscar Wilde

 As a facilitator, teacher, and leader in the Authentic Relating movement, you might be surprised to know that I often question the actual concept and practice of Authenticity. And a timely article by Bo Winegard over at Quillette asked some of the deeper philosophical issues around this word: 

Winegard argues that Authenticity is not a noble or even attainable ideal and that it is impossible to be authentic because there is no fundamental way to remove ourselves from our embedded cultural conditioning. He concludes his short essay with: 

But to be human is to be artificial. And to contend that it is inauthentic to conform to one’s culture and to strive to suppress and overcome one’s natural tendencies is like contending that it is inauthentic for a mockingbird to imitate the song of another species. Paradoxically, the most authentic thing we can do is strive to transcend ourselves and become what we are not.

 I have always struggled with the word and the practice itself. Sometimes when speaking vulnerably and passionately, others may comment and appreciate what they perceive as authenticity. However, as I reflect internally, I question: “Was any of what I said original, authentic, genuine, or was that a product of my history, culture, and unconscious and borrowed words and ideas?”  I think, in some ways, that what I am actually practicing, facilitating, embodying, and teaching is the practice of congruous or congruent relating. The meaning of congruous is similar to that of accordant: agreeing; conforming; harmonious, or exhibiting harmony of parts.

I’ve always liked the word accordant, as its etymology is something like ‘with heart, be of one heart, bring heart to heart.’

Unfortunately, ‘Congruent Relating’ doesn’t sound very appealing – so I continue to search for the word or concept that represents this embodied, present-moment relational practice.

And a problem with authenticity is that it doesn’t always make a better person. I have often argued controversially that our 45th president is a highly authentic human being, and something that many people appreciate about him. Winegard gives the following hypothesis:

Suppose we are comparing the behavior of Thomas and John, two people who are, for whatever combination of reasons, both full of hatred and envy. But while Thomas struggles to contain his rage, his competitiveness, and his jealousy, John does not. After years of hard work, Thomas has built a successful company and become a revered businessman who provides hundreds of jobs to a once-impoverished community. He attends church and is kind to everyone, despite his seething resentment. John, on the other hand, is unemployed and constantly bickers with others. He frequents bars and brawls to relieve his rage. But he does not lie—he is candid about his contempt for everyone. The champion of authenticity appears to be committed to claiming that John should be celebrated whereas Thomas should be condemned.

  • What do you think we should call this embodied, present-moment relational practice?
  • How do you relate to the concepts of authenticity and congruence? 
  • Can we avoid being artificial and inauthentic?

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