DevInContext The Case For Personal Growth


Authenticity Answers, Part 1: How Deep Is Your Want?

A little while ago, I promised Duff a post about a question he asked me on Twitter.  As I understand it, his question was:  if being authentic is about staying true to what you want (which I briefly suggested at my other blog), what happens if what you want is to get other people to do something?

In other words, what if I want to get someone else to buy my products, or be in a relationship with me?  Wouldn't it then be "authentic" for me to create a persona I think will please them?  If so, doesn't that run counter to our intuitions about what authenticity is?

Degrees of Desire

I'll start by noting that I don't claim to be an authority on what authenticity means or ought to mean.  With the disclaimers out of the way, I'll suggest that authenticity, as I'm using the word, is a matter of degree rather than kind.  In my experience, underneath each desire we have, there's often a deeper desire.

For example, if I really want you to buy a product I'm selling, perhaps that's because I want to become wealthy.  And if I want to be wealthy, maybe that's because I want to be respected.  And perhaps I wish to be respected because I didn't feel respected by my father, and I want my father's love.  Deeper still, maybe I want my father's love because I simply want to feel loved.

Notice how, the deeper I delved into my wants in that example, the more heartfelt -- and the more vulnerable -- those wants became.  I don't know about you, but it would be much easier for me to admit to someone that I want to get rich than to tell them I want my father's love!  A lot of people, I imagine, wouldn't even want to admit that to themselves.

So, this is my concept of authenticity:  the deeper the desire we're acknowledging and pursuing, the more authentic we're being.  On the other hand, the closer to our surface-level desires we are, the less authentic we are in that moment.  I think this notion meshes well with our intuitions about what authenticity is -- that is, "coming from the heart" when we speak and act.

So Can Pretending Be Authentic?

Now, back to Duff's question:  can I be "authentic" if what I want is to please or manipulate someone?  My answer is that, if I am acting with the goal of pleasing someone else, there's probably a deeper desire underneath that I'm not acknowledging -- perhaps the desire to be loved or respected.

That is, if I'm coming from a place of "I need to please you" when I talk to you, and I'm not in touch with the (probably painful) wants and needs beneath that, I'm being less authentic than I'd be if I were open with myself, and you, about what's really driving my behavior.  The more I'm willing to reveal, and be guided by, my deeper wants, the more authentic I'm being.

I think authenticity is a continuum, in other words -- it's not simply an either-or matter of being authentic or inauthentic.

In my experience, there's something very powerful and liberating about moving toward authenticity, in the sense I'm using the word.  It can be unsettling to admit to someone what I most deeply want with them, rather than pretending I'm only there to shoot the breeze, or go out on a date, or do a business deal -- in other words, to cover up my real intentions in the way we're accustomed to doing in our culture.  But when I'm courageous enough to do it, it's a freeing and transforming experience.