Capable Capable
Capable Capable

Are you the real thing?

In a 2013 post*, I said, Even in a world of glitz and glitter, hustle and change, we feel a remarkable affinity for that which is authentic, for that which has integrity, for that which reveals itself to be as claimed . . . Whether objects, art or bold action on behalf of principled convictions, that which is genuine calls forth our appreciation and yields richness, meaning and comfort.

As you well know, authenticity—a merger of image and being—was and is crucial to our philosophy of autonomy. By “image” I mean not only the general impression that we present to the public but also the picture we present to ourselves when we are talking to ourselves. By “being” I mean how we actually speak and behave.

Unfortunately, thanks to the isolating dualism that dominates the mechanisms of the American ego-function, it is way too easy for us to tolerate a big discrepancy between how we present and think about ourselves and how we behave in fact. (I say it is easy to tolerate this gap, but the price of inauthenticity is typically anxiety, antagonism, foolishness and moodiness.) 

In the alternate time-space continuum we entertain when we talk to ourselves psychologistically, we are smarter than most people, more responsible, creative and gifted—an excellent match for the competitive challenges that characterize the marketplace, family life and the social world. Anxiously, we wait for a lucky break.

As such, out in the real world, buoyed by this lopsidedly subjective sense of ourselves, we might, for example, represent ourselves as competent in an area in which we’ve little expertise; or as family-oriented when we demonstrate limited skill or patience when it comes to the emotional challenges presented by parents, mate and offspring; or as a good, decent and courageous person when we’re far from generous, compassionate or bold. If we happen to catch a glimpse of our inauthenticity, we tend to blame others or a circumstance for causing it.

Yes, human beings are built and shaped by natural and social forces that are not necessarily in sync with one another. The pressures on us are relentless. We are constantly confronted with conflicting claims about what is right, good, etc., and our appetites and passions have their way with us. However, though a retreat to the psychologistic universe may seem to provide a respite from the facts of life, the dualism is actually painful.

This is not to say that merging the image and the being is the answer to all of life’s challenges. Autonomous living calls for a set of cognitive and communicative skills and we are apt not to succeed at that for which we are not genuinely qualified.

In some cases, we have the being; we can create discipline projects (study, practice, performance, incremental progress) that move us from behavior that is not a match for the challenge to behavior that is. In other cases, the image is out of reach for us and we should adjust our representations to others and ourselves accordingly. Either way, we have exercised the power of autonomy.

It may be, at first, hard to accept that we’re not, in fact, somehow magically better than everyone else when it comes to the things that “count” on the Scoreboard. However, the truth does, in fact, set us free from the antagonism and anxiety that fester in the mismanaged ego-function.

So, by what criteria do we deem ourselves authentic, true to ourselves? Authenticity calls for independent thinking, confidence and discipline. When the image we have of ourselves, when how we intend to create and disclose our humanity is actually matched by our being—by our speaking and conduct—we find our experience deeply satisfying. Indeed, when the means by which we prosper and establish ourselves are authentic, when the voice by which we are known and heard is forthright, when the image and the being are one, a profound presence of self is revealed.


 * Authenticity—merging the image and the being, posted on January 21, 2013

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Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.