This above all: to thine own self be true, writes Shakespeare, stirring sugar into water but forgetting the kool-aid mix.
If there's a universal in the USA, it's authenticity. The brute strength it takes to be fully honest about yourself, to yourself, others, God. And it does take brute strength to lift all the shadings that color you falsely. It might take me a lifetime before I fully embrace the strange glory it is to be human, washed in the earth and dressed in imperfection with the smell of fear on my breath.
As we know authenticity, it means not just the strength to be honest about yourself but also the ability to act in accord with that truth. And again, that too can be courageous. Some intuitions rise from our marrow and we forever regret denying them the light of life.
But authenticity isn't enough.
1) Your authenticity doesn't belong to everyone.
I used to think being an open book to everybody was the only way to live life. It took me getting married to realize not only that certain things are best unshared with acquaintances, but also sharing everything with everybody is a disrespect to the people that actually matter. Boundaries are good, yeah. I think we get that. There are fears that only my wife should hear. I think we get that too. But deep friends-- the kind of real, committed friendships where you piss each other off now and again-- have put in the time & laughter & listening to earn a brutal honesty that your acquaintances don't deserve.
2) Authenticity has a look-alike named laziness.
Laziness doesn't want the work required to cultivate goodness. Instead it asks, "Should I really ___?" until it's convinced it shouldn't. Its Christian version will use the word 'calling' as a permission slip to escape the difficult work of actual life. Authenticity is good when it drives you down to dangerous and essential longings: to work fruitfully and meaningfully, to pray and feel heard, to actually enjoy life, to be beloved. These good longings are starved when laziness demands their shortcuts.
3) Authenticity cheats on the future with the present.
I wanted to stuff myself with Ben & Jerry's last night. That's authentic me. Every time I get home from class, I want to burrow my head in blue light. Also authentic me. Sometimes, authenticity denies past and future for short-sighted pleasure. In so doing, it denies story and, consequently, redemption. If I am only what I am right now, there is no plot, no character plodding and pleading for salvation. And that redemption stories exist are the beginning of any human hope.
photo: raygen, catching tim & I living authentic