Are we being authentic or are we just being mean?
We often believe that being authentic means saying whatever comes to our mind without questioning 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 else.
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. Often, I see posts on social media about a new story du jour. The initial posts may not be inflammatory, but the thread of people opposing or defending the posts tends to get really ugly.
Why is it so easy for us to slip into this being mean spirit?
I wanted to understand this phenomenon a little better so I turned to Psychology Today. In an article published in June 2013, Nathan A. Heflick, Ph.D., 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 toward 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 origin of the word.
The word authentic comes from the same root as the word author. To be truly authentic is to become the author of our experience and the composer of our life’s symphony. Being authentic is to authorize ourselves to move beyond our comfort zone. The idea that I can author my own life feels empowering to me. And if I’m feeling empowered, I see myself and others in a more positive light.
How can we really become more authentic?
Here are five suggestions for getting started:
1. 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 grow. With that 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. We simply set goals for improvement.
2. Give ourselves the permission to redefine our values.
A good author edits. It’s important to give ourselves the permission to change. Our lives are largely value driven. The things that are truly important to us are what drives our behavior. Are we holding on to any outdated values? We should allow ourselves to give them up to embrace something new.
3. Keep ourselves well informed by reading and listening to others.
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. We should read about world events, human behavior, or the latest developments in science. As we read about people different from us with experiences that are not similar to our own, we may find ourselves embracing new ways of thinking.
4. Practice kindness and compassion.
Let’s not allow ourselves to be mean-spirited in our words or actions. Let’s practice treating people in a kind and compassionate way. As we do this, others are more likely to open up to us, making a fertile ground for learning new life lessons.
5. Cultivate an open mind by being curious.
If our knee-jerk reaction has been to judge and close down, why not trying something different? Let’s cultivate an open mind. We need to be open to opinions that are different from our own. We need to be open to new ways of being. We need to teach ourselves to be curious rather than judgmental.
We are the authors of our lives. We should step up and write good ones. Let’s make our authenticity admirable.