Are We Being “Authentic” Or Are We Just Being Mean? 5 Ways To Flex Your Authenticity Muscle
Are We Being “Authentic” or Are We Just Being Mean?
5 Ways to Flex Your Authenticity Muscle
We often believe that being authentic means to say whatever comes to mind without questioning it or challenging it. How many times have we heard someone proudly claim they are being their “authentic self” or speaking “their authentic truth” and then go on to profoundly offend someone?
I wonder, are we “being authentic” or are we just being mean?
This “authentic behavior” seems rampant on social media and in political threads. Those who are passionate about their beliefs often bypass human kindness just to make a point. I often see a post on social media about a news story de jour. The initial post may not be inflammatory, but the thread of people opposing or defending the post can tend to get really ugly.
Why is it so easy for us to slip into being mean-spirited? I wanted to understand this phenomenon a little better so I turned to Psychology Today. In an article by Nathan A. Heflick, Ph.D., published in June of 2013, Heflick notes:
“Social identity theory argues that humans have a basic psychological need for “positive distinctiveness.” In other words, people have a need to feel unique from others in positive ways. As humans naturally form groups, this need for positive distinction extends to the groups we belong to. That is, we tend to view our in-groups more favorably than out-groups (groups we do not belong to). And as a consequence, we tend to see people who are not part of our group less positively than people who are, especially when people feel like the identity of their group has been challenged.”
Dr. Heflick goes on to say:
“Whether it is as a means of promoting our groups, or ourselves, we tend to be more aggressive when our self-worth has been challenged and we are not feeling particularly positive about ourselves. When our self-esteem is threatened, we are more likely to degrade people who aren’t members of our groups, and to become more directly aggressive towards people in general.”
When we insult someone, it may say more about how we are feeling about ourselves than about the other person. But let’s get back to this idea of the need to “be authentic”. I think we may find some enlightenment in the word’s origin.
The word authentic comes from the same root as the word author. To be truly authentic is to become the author of our experience, the composer of our life’s symphony. Being authentic is to authorize ourself to move beyond our comfort zone. The idea that I can author my own life feels very empowering to me. And if I’m feeling empowered, the way in which I see myself and others stands in a more positive light. So, how can we really become more authentic?
Here are 5 suggestions for getting started.
Access and embrace our strengths and weaknesses
There is a great paradox in life that can serve us well: Accept ourselves exactly as we are and, at the same time, challenge ourselves to growth. With than in mind, we can take an objective look at all the ways in which we shine, and all the ways we could do a little better. We don’t need to beat ourselves up, just set some goals for improvement.
Give ourselves permission to redefine our values
A good author edits. It’s important to give ourselves permission to change. Our lives are largely value driven. The things that are truly important to us are the things that drive our behavior. Are there values you’ve held that are outdated? Give yourself license to give them up and embrace something new.
Keep ourselves well informed. Read. Listen.
As we think about authorizing ourselves to move beyond our comfort zone, it’s helpful to learn about things that are currently outside our comfort zone. To that end, it’s important to keep ourselves informed. Read about world events, human behavior or the latest developments in science. As we read about people that are different from us and experiences that are different from our own, we may find ourselves embracing new ways of thinking.
Practice kindness and compassion
Let’s not allow ourselves to be mean spirited in our words or actions. Let’s practice treating people in kind and compassionate ways. As we do this, others are more likely to open up to us, making a fertile ground for learning new life lessons.
Cultivate an open mind. Be curious.
If our kneejerk reaction has been to judge and close down, why not try something different? Let’s cultivate an open mind. Be open to opinions that are different from our own. Be open to new ways of being. Teach ourselves to be curious rather than judgmental.
Remember, you are the author of your life. Step up and write a good one. Let’s make our authenticity admirable.
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