Editor's note - This column was originally published in The Times and Democrat on May 17, 2015.
Authenticity is a rare quality, especially in the times in which we live. We are guilty of living above our means, striving to be people we are not, kowtowing to people who think they hold positions of reputation and power and wearing masks that hide the daily struggles and challenges we face in our families, our work and our social environments.
I cherish authenticity. I detest masks. Sometimes I find myself thinking that the only thing that will bring wearing masks to their knees is some kind of disaster that drives them to understand that the levels they assign to humankind are contemptuously flawed.
Disasters and catastrophes strip away any sense of self-security, demanding dependence on anyone who can help, regardless of social, economic or racial status.
“There is a common ground of understanding, forgiveness, acceptance and healing when we are authentic with each other. When we tell our real-life stories of what we have encountered on the journey of life, we break down barriers and create safe places to risk revealing the truth,” writes Carol Kent in her book "When I Lay My Isaac Down."
“Intimacy in our relationships springs to life when we are no longer hiding behind the mask of denial, embarrassment, guilt, or shame. We’re just us - people who have had some good days in life and people who have had some very bad days. We’ve quit pretending that everything is ‘fine’ and that life is grand.”
At the age of 13, I realized that the self-absorbed groups of young teenage girls who measured their worth on looks, popularity, clothes and the social status of their parents were the groups to which I had no desire to belong. Perhaps they had “everything,” but they were missing values that I cherish: compassion, kindness, sincerity, honesty … and most important of all, authenticity.
It took only a few painful events to help me understand that there will always be those people who judge you on values that are immaterial to a successful life. I turned, instead, to make friends who were genuine, funny, kind and inviting. I remain amazed to this day that I learned that lesson so early in life.
I began to turn to the disenfranchised and to befriend them. I learned to smile at everyone and to be inviting with conversation and spending time with them. I learned that my own value came from recognizing value in the authentic people I met.
How does authenticity look? In my mind, authenticity is a welcome mat that invites a person to be genuine and real, regardless of circumstances. Authenticity says, “share your troubles with me and I will listen; offer up your deepest frustrations and I will empathize with you; express your disappointments and your biases, and I will not judge you; I will offer advice only if you ask it; I will be your friend, regardless of your honest struggles.”
Chuck Swindoll says, “I know of nothing more valuable, when it comes to the all-important virtue of authenticity, than simply being who you are.”
While it sounds so simple - being who you are - we humans make it very complicated by hiding behind who we really are and attempting to create a façade that betrays the very deep beauty that results from authenticity.
Living authentic lives does bring freedom; the challenge is to find the very few people who are intent on living the same way. The reward, however, when you find those kinds of authentic friends, is immeasurable!