Friday 30 July 2021

Artificial Authenticity

Authenticity is a bit like motherhood and apple pie. One can't exactly be against it. Much of the literature on leadership talks about the importance of authenticity, and I think that is right. It is quite clear that people are unlikely to trust and follow a leader who is duplicitous, and inconsistent in words and actions.*  

But I think that the issue of authenticity bears some scrutiny. To take a simple, domestic, example, there are times when my wife (to whom I have been happily married for nearly forty years) can press my buttons, as it were, with such uncanny accuracy that I would gladly biff her on the head with a frying pan.**

Yet I don't. Would it be more authentic to do so, if that is what I am truly feeling at that moment?  I don't think so.  And the reason I don't think so is that we are complex beings, and our true self (our authentic self) is not merely the expression of the transient emotions that we experience at a moment in time. 

So what is authentic behaviour in that context?  I think it is about aligning our behaviour with our best version of ourself. The reason I don't biff Jane with a frying pan (or at least, one of the reasons) is that it is not true to who I am striving to be, or to become.  And by consistently not biffing her with a frying pan for forty years, I have now so developed my character, that I think I can fairly say that I am a non-violent husband, and I think that is a good thing - and indeed an authentic thing - for me to be. 

However, in a sense that authenticity is artificial: it is a learned behaviour - a discipline to refrain from acting on my immediate, and doubtless authentic, emotional response.

But where I think it differs from a problematic inauthenticity lies in the realm of intention. I am genuinely, and consistently, trying to be a loving husband. It is when that genuine and consistent intention is lacking, that someone's behaviour is more likely to be inauthentic in the problematic way.  And the problem with that understanding is that we cannot see another person's intention; we can only deduce it.

However, for myself, I can be clear: it is not inauthentic to aspire to be better than I am; indeed that is, for me, an essential part of becoming ever more authentic.

* I leave aside the rather extraordinary state of our political systems from this discussion...

** Hyperbole, but I'm sure you recognise what I am describing.


With thanks to  Slava,  Aleksandra Tanasiienko, and Sammy Williams for sharing their photos on Unsplash

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