The journey into authenticity is something that I pursuit constantly. What does it mean to be truly authentic and how can one discover his/her inner authenticity and live from that place of self integrity?
In order to answer the above question, we have to first understand what is authenticity and how do we tune in to our own inner self.
Authenticity to me is about being conscious of why we do what we do, the influences that are play that shapes our behavior, why we chose to behave the way we do. At the core of my definition, its all about whether I am conscious of why I do certain things and if such contracts (social contract, moral contract, religious contract, legal contract as can be found in most societies) does not exist, would I have behaved differently? And whether my choice to adhere or go against such contracts contributes to a good that is either individual, societal or moral (and feel free to add on other context that might apply to you for example religious or spiritual).
From the moment that we were born, we have well-meaning parents and teachers (religious, secular) who indoctrinate us into accepted ways of thinking, behaving and Be-ing. When we were kids, adults take it that we are not sufficiently developed to rationalize challenges and come to our own solutions. Social living also involves concepts such as turn taking, communication, consensus, adaptation and making choices. All these have to be experience and mastered in our own way before we can even begin to employ these various strategies in our daily lives. These are all generally good in a way that without understanding these accords, its hard to live our lives and navigate the social landscape. No man is truly an island and we all need to leverage on each other based on the role that we play within society for our own individual survival.
A philosopher once said that the best lies are made up of 95% truths and as the saying goes, the devil is always in the detail. While the above contracts (which I would wholistically call Culture) largely exists as a glue to make society works, its harmful to believe that its also 100% valid as the best way to live life and in some culture, an assertion of Truth. There is a danger in that and a culture that claims perfection runs the risk of being autocratic. Because perfection will logically invalidates the need for feedback and any system that doesn’t have a feedback loop runs the risk of becoming a runaway system. This is of course and assumption unless there is a perfect system that exists out there that encompasses an perfectly efficient feedback mechanism that is acted upon. Such a society however to the best of my knowledge does not exist in the present moment in our history.
So when we grow up in any culture, we have no choice but to first learn the rules of the culture and allow the culture to shape us so that it will allow us to function within that culture. However as we mature in our thinking, it is important than to start questioning these cultural understanding. This is important because we all want to live a fulfilled happy life. And happiness largely stems from knowing why we do what we do and when is it necessary to leave behind something that is not serving us and making us miserable.
In some culture for example, there are certain attitudes towards certain racial groups. But if you belong to such a culture and you happen to work in an environment where people of certain race exists and over time you become close friends with them, part of you might be concerned that close association with them might make you be seen by your own racial group as a defector or the likes. Now that is cultural conditioning and perception. It might cause you a high degree of misery and you might also feel torn inside. If you ask me, the answer is that you need to go within yourself and use evidence based thinking to come to your own conclusion. More often than not, in such instances, you will start to realize that we are all humans and we are all faced with similar challenges and there is no logic in asserting that anyone is better than others,
Some cultures have a practice of the lady being arranged to get married to someone she barely knows. Its an arranged marriage and very often, she has no say in the choice she is married to. Now this is another cultural practice. Authentically what would you do if you connect with your inner self? I did some research for this and I did ask some of my friends belonging to a culture. Some of the ladies are against it but they didn’t feel that they have a choice because they do not want to be on the bad side of their family. There are also others who rebelled and said no to their parents. There are even ladies I spoke to who felt that its not such a bad idea because they have parents who assured them that they will help to look out for a good husband and that they sincerely want their daughter to be happy. This is also based on the idea that in some cultures, love is a bond that develops after marriage. This is of course contrary to popular notion that you must love someone first before you marry them. So as you can see there are no hard and fast rule here and if you belong to such a culture, its up to you to connect with your authentic self and find out what is your authentic response and what is your next action.
The effect of culture is also subtle. There are gender bias and expectations, there are racial bias and expectation, there are beauty bias and expectation, there are height bias and expectations, and numerous more. In the field of social psychology, you can dig up all kind of very intriguing social experiments such as why the person who is good looking is usually the least suspect as the culprit of a traffic accident and why someone who is tall frequently gets offered a better salary and why when the victim of a crime is a beautiful person, the culprit gets a stiffer sentence. And in many instances these are also not purely a function of culture but also our psychological make-up. But all these are influencers and they shape the way we think, react, do things etc.
We also have fears as influencers. Living in the 21st century, I’m certain you will agree with me that the average city dweller live in constant if not background fears of where the money is coming in, how much savings do you have, payment of credit card bills and house loans, your children education etc. All these fears are valid but they also will factor in influencing the way we behave and act. We might not act authentically towards our colleague, no matter how subtly, because at work we feel that we need to show ourselves up, to profile ourselves to our bosses. These can even take the form of a very subtle action where we chose to keep quiet and not correct a perception that is going around about one of our colleagues. By simply not correcting that erroneous perception of our colleague which we know to be otherwise, we are complicit and acting in a non-authentic way.
So how can we journey into greater authenticity? For me there are tow ways that we can do so. It’s what I call the bottom up way (from the origin) and the end-in-mind way.
The Bottom up way involves taking some quiet time each day (maybe 5mins at a start) to just slowly think of yourself from your earliest years and examine what you were told, what you did and why you did it. Its akin to developing an internal biography of yourself. You can choose to write these thoughts down or just keep it in mind. All you are really doing here is to take time and reflect from your earliest days why you did what you did, why you did it and what you were taught and how all these come to interact and resulted in actions or directions you chose to take. This might sound simple but trust me you will start generating your own questions and you might find a need to get a notebook so you can write down your own definitions, create your own categories, establish certain facts (like Google’s famous list of what-we-know-for-certain). You will understand yourself a hell lot better as a result and you will also be able to filter and understand why you did what you did.
The second method is the end-in-mind method. Simply put, this is when you start by examining the decisions you make in your current life stage and trace backwards. Its actually quite tricky but also very fulfilling. And similarly, you will start to find a need to get a notebook so you can write down your own definitions, create your own categories, establish certain facts. Both methods actually has its strong points. And when you use the same method you might find different realization for the same event that happens because in one perspective you were looking at the bottoms-up way which has a developmental basis. And when you look at the same event from the end-in-mind way, you might have a different insight as its more of a retrospective perspective. Its akin to the saying, ‘Life is best understood retrospectively’ and when you use this perspective you do get different insight. And with these two insights on similar event, you can draw your own conclusion into what is authentically you and what are the influencers at play at that moment and how you would have acted if you were more authentic.
At this point I would like to highlight a few things:
- You don’t have to do both methods. One method sufficed unless you get really into it and you see huge benefit in doing both ways and getting a more multi-faceted understanding of yourself.
- The goal is also not to judge yourself and chastise yourself for not being authentic. No, I promote non-judgmental acceptance of yourself. There is no need to live with this feeling that you need to redeem yourself for not being authentic. This exercise is supposed to generate a better understanding of yourself so that in the future, you are not at the mercy of invisible influencers who influences you to behave or act in a certain way and in the end causing you to feel unfulfilled and miserable. Its supposed to raise your awareness so that you will know what it means to act authentically and in that, you will also have the option to act authentically and thus lead a more authentic and fulfilled life.
The journey towards authenticity is a very tricky one. I can only speak for myself when I say that I find within me layers and layers of stories and some of these stories are structured perfectly to enable me to justify my actions and hide what are the actual influencers and fears I am not seeing and embracing. For me, it’s a process that will last a lifetime as at every moment, I am not only examining my past actions but I am also consciously or unconsciously also generating new stories. We are all, in our mind, narrative-generating computers. Without stories we generate in our minds, everything will seem random and illogical. So we live by stories we tell ourselves. I frequently wonder what if I refused to create stories. Than I will just be the most random person you will ever meet because I have disconnected myself from my past (immediate and historical) and also even my short term expectations of my future. You can get very wild with this exercise and its up to you how far you wanna take it and in a manner of speech popular in this day and age, to see how deep the rabbit hole goes haha.
Thanks for reading another one of my long and meandering blog entry, I am simply greatful for the opportunity to express my thoughts and for you to believe in me enough to read to the end. Thank you once again and Namaste.