Just Be Yourself?

I’ve seen the word authenticity thrown around a lot. And I think it’s well-intentioned to be clear. But sometimes I turn myself around in circles trying to figure out what it means. How can you differentiate between what is yours, and what is from external sources? Things you’ve absorbed over the years and adopted as your own, maybe even subconsciously. When did you start being yourself? And has there ever been a time when you were purely authentic? Like I said, starting to think about this stuff can take you pretty deep into a rabbit hole. And it usually ends up with me being more confused than I was at the start. Well that’s a great introduction, let’s get into it!

I got interested in this subject when I started to read about Free Will. Maybe this is all Sam Harris’ fault then. He introduced, and made a compelling case for, people not being in control of their own thoughts minute-to-minute. Or maybe second-to-second. For example I am focused, and directing my attention very deliberately towards writing on this subject at the moment. I wouldn’t argue that the words on this page aren’t under my control. Not only am I writing them, but I will at the end of this session go back, re-read them, and edit as required. Not one level, but two of my direct input on what you’re reading. But what about when you’re not focused on a specific task? I am sure everyone is familiar with the idea of day-dreaming. What’s prompting those thoughts? Obviously seeing something that captivates your attention is a trigger, but in terms of the avalanche of thoughts, images, ideas, etc that follows? You aren’t deliberately bringing those forward in the same way I am bringing forward the words and sentences here. There’s a difference. It get’s weirder, I don’t think weirder is the right way to frame it actually, probably more obvious when you practice mindfulness meditation. Where you just sit back and watch the stream of thoughts that pass through you. The volume alone is pretty eye-opening, but also the breadth and depth. Sometimes I can see common threads which cause me to jump from one topic to another, but other types you’re just left scratching your head. I’m not controlling those ideas. What’s triggering them, and what are they grounded against? Are those thoughts my “authentic” self? I struggle with that since I have no idea where they came from. Is this writing them my “authentic” self since I am controlling the output directly? I also struggle with that since I know, whether or not I like it, I am trying to write something that is compelling, in a style that presents me in a certain way, and I am not putting myself all the way out there. So I have the ability to be “authentic” here, but I’m not fully doing it because I can’t bring myself to it basically. This is already getting very confusing!

Further, I would again go all the way back and ask what is the authentic part of a person? Is it what’s in your genes? Surely that’s “you”, and the part of you that you can’t alter in any way. But how does that translate into thought or personality or general behavior and demeanor? I will try to walk through this a step at a time, but it’s going to be sloppy. Your genes do translate into a temperament. And you can suss this out by taking a Big 5 personality test. Before I continue on with this train of thought, if any of you see the Big 5 as being fake science a la astrology, let me know! I am not trying to be cute here, I would really like to know since from what I’ve seen and read the Big 5 is pretty universally accepted by the science community. So I am introverted by nature according to my genes. And I have a desire for orderliness, and am conscientious, etc. I’m not controlling these tendencies, they are just there. I can work with that as the foundation for authenticity.

How do your baseline traits affect thinking and values and behavior though. Here’s some pop-science. This could be all bs, get ready. I think of your base temperament and personality traits as filters through which you look at things. They are filters, which may affect how easily you take to something. I can see how this would apply at the very top level – what types of activities you’re interested in, what type of careers appeal to you, what appeals to you in relationships etc. But what about thoughts? I should have clarified earlier, I am most interested in authenticity in the context of thinking, values, and how you live your life. Does a person have any authentic thoughts? Maybe take a genius like Einstein as an example first. Clearly he had some serious intellectual capabilities naturally through his genes. But when it came to his ideas, what were the authentic pieces? I think this is an interesting examples because he is one of the only people in the world to come up with something completely novel and original. But that’s not to say he pulled it completely out of thin air. He studied physics for years, which obviously included reading papers from other contemporaries and physicists from times gone by. He shared his own too, and received feedback. Probably took part in some spirited debates. And then he somehow synthesized all that information and came up with something completely new and novel. Never before seen. In writing that out, I am realizing that maybe I am somehow equating authentic to originality? His idea was original to a certain extent after you acknowledge that it was built upon the work and findings of many others. Am I using authentic incorrectly to describe ideas? Ok, maybe we’re on to something, clarity ahead!

I think the same point could be made with philosophers who talk about values. They start with a position, or outlining the position of someone else, and then put there own take on it. And as it relates to the last portion there, yes their idea is original, but what is it authentic to? Their own personal philosophy and value system? Ok, that makes sense, but what is that personal philosophy based on? This is where I keep getting confused. I don’t think you are born with it, yet somehow it develops over time. And it’s not a natural development from my perspective. It comes from your external inputs – your family, your education, life experiences, etc. Which each person processes in a different way, and then turns into some version of their own. This becomes them. But it was not in them from the beginning, so is it really authentic? If it is, what is it authentic to? The inputs they received? Maybe it’s just semantics, but it all gets very confusing for me here.

Maybe I should try to start over. People say they are being authentic to themselves all the time. And if I can be cynical for just a sentence of two, I believe most people use that terminology because it’s en vogue now without really knowing what it means. Was that my authentic voice? I honestly don’t know, but it did feel pretty good to write, I’m not going to lie. But maybe some people really do believe they are being authentic to something. Perhaps you can define being authentic as doing whatever doesn’t give you any internal pause. Any internal sense of doing the wrong thing. Or even simpler, maybe you are just being authentic to all of your inputs, the construct of your subconscious. You are authentic to your up-bringing (for better or worse) and to what you read, saw, experienced (also for better or worse) combined with your base temperament? That definition makes a little more sense to me, but is this what people mean when they say I’m being authentic? What about after someone makes a bad mistake and then through their apology claims that the action or words weren’t really them? I can buy that claim a bit more easily since you see how rapid the flow of thoughts that passes through your mind really is as soon as you start to pay attention. If you rashly act on one of those thoughts passing through you, the result can sometimes be ugly. And that thought wasn’t you, you more than likely didn’t deliberately trigger it. So even though that type of defense feels pretty inauthentic, I would accept it as an explanation.

And the last part I want to touch on here is time, or if there is any fixed authentic self. Is your authentic self the same for your entire life? Surely as you get more experience and more varied inputs from the external world, and your own physiology as you get older changes, your thoughts change. So does your authentic self change along side everything else? I would say the answer there has to be yes. So your authentic self is constantly a work in progress, and there’s nothing wrong with that admission from my standpoint. But then you always get a pass for changing, and easily alibi maybe. That was my authentic self yesterday, but I’m different now. I think it has to be this way, but it makes me wish people wouldn’t use the word (authentic) so liberally knowing its subject to change.

I don’t know if it really matters, or why I get so caught up on this one. Maybe it’s just from annoyance at people throwing the term around so loosely. And my deep suspicion that people who claim to be living an authentic life really don’t even know what it means. Maybe my authentic self is being a cynic. And if I work diligently, only positive and hopeful inputs, I wonder if I could change that. But if I changed it, does the mean I’m no longer being authentic to myself? Ok, I’m going to cut this off.

Thanks for reading and I will speak with you tomorrow. 53 Minutes. 1756 Words.

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