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Authenticity…is of the devil?!

October 11, 2011

I’m really too lazy to link to all the articles I’ve ever written regarding authenticity, but if you’ve been keeping track of this blog, you should know that it’s an issue I care a lot about. A lot of my struggles in the past have been trying to reconcile this sense of having to lie about everything I believe in or care about just to “fit in” with whomever I’m around. But this feels stifling, suffocating to me…as if I’m snuffing out who I am for the sake of “getting along with others.”

And so my disaffection from the church, in large part, has been from the realization that many other people in church probably don’t feel that way…because they actually do believe in God and Mormonism and the church. So, given that everyone’s not in the same boat, why would I keep faking it at cost to myself?

And so I disaffected to be authentic to myself.

As you may know, I’ve been undergoing some conversations with my father, via Facebook, then email, and most recently through phone. They are pretty charged conversations, but in them, I have to realize that there are several aspects about my personality that I need to change.

In another discussion, commenter dustydistaff pointed out that perhaps the reason I found it difficult to change was because I personally am not motivated to change myself for myself…rather, I want to change because I want to avoid bad stuff happening…I want to avoid reactions from others.

And…I absolutely think that’s true. In a way, I want to change because my personality doesn’t work with others. But the blockage I’m getting is that I know that when I make this change, I will go back to hating myself. And so I’m already in mourning.

The central idea is that strong opinions expressed strongly are dangerous. Many people don’t want to hear any opinions but their own, and they do not react well to those of others. So, for the others who express strong opinions, there is always danger that someone will hear and will not like what they heard, and as a result they will react…and their reaction will be to try to neutralize the threat. While you can hope that you can defend yourself against whatever reactions may come, this is a losing battle…because you’re always hoping that your strength will beat their strength. The problem is that there will always be someone stronger than you are. Someone with more power, influence, or friends than you have. And you will not be able to recover.

My dad thinks that I got this way from going to university and learning philosophy and logic. That I started getting good grades and accomplishing some things at school and then thought I was invincible. That then, I rejected God.

…it’s impossible for me to try to say otherwise, because he just responds that I’m doing exactly what’s wrong: I’m asserting my opinion, as if I know everything and there’s no chance I could be wrong. I will not be humble; I will not be teachable.

I guess I just feel that to let my story be crushed and unheard is my death. If no one will fight for me, not even me…then how do “I” exist?

That’s the idea of authenticity…you have to be your best advocate, because no one else will. Even if this puts you at odds with society and friends, you have to be the one person on your side.

…the problem is this: I’ve always understood from a theoretical basis how authenticity can put you at odds with society…but I never put it in terms of practical effects in my own life. I have to admit that I am facing the detrimental effects.

There was a vital miscalculation I made with authenticity. I assumed that a person could exist independently…but that’s simply not true. We are always connected in a social net, so we can’t afford not to get along with others, because we will always in some way rely upon those others.

My father said something on the phone that I didn’t agree with, but it was so stark that I had to remember it. He said that he and my mother tried to raise me in the church, to see good tenets, good principles, God. But I rejected God, so what was I left with? If I rejected God, and rejected the church…I am left with the other end of that duality. And now, I can see from the fruits of my life where exactly I am. Reactive. Argumentative. evil.

Can it be that authenticity is of the devil? That authenticity is selfishness? Arrogance? Hubris? Reactivity?

…I am painted with a bleak picture, at a bleaker crossroads.

I can continue the path of authenticity and like myself, but dislike the volatile social situations I get into (and risk pissing someone off in a way from which I cannot recover)…or I can start being an actor again…I can start withholding my voice and opinions, to “fit in” or to “get along.” And I will hate every moment of it, but at least I’ll be “safe.”

It depresses me…but then again, it’s a depressing subject. I realize that I’ve covered this exact topic before: the pessimism of religion. What I have believed is that I can change things…that I can convince people through argumentation. I called it an optimistic perspective.

But I am confronted with the idea that this simply doesn’t work. That instead, people will get upset and will try to hurt me. That instead, I can’t try to argue and convince people. That I have to not put truth in people to do the right thing, or to be able to be convinced to do the right thing. The pessimist perspective.

…It feels to me such a profoundly lonely path. That’s where another thing my dad said intrigued me (paraphrased since it was via call):

I trust in God because he never has loose lips. He will never try to use my words against me, get upset with what I was saying and then try to destroy me. So, I am discreet with everyone I am around, private, humble, quiet, but I rely in God.

It must be nice to have such a companion. But I can’t help but feel that there is a different reason why God never uses his words against him…

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From → Dad Talk

22 Comments
  1. I had a few thoughts and reactions to this…

    First of all, the Church should not be a place where you feel uncomfortable just because your views or beliefs are different. And certainly you should not be made to feel uncomfortable because you can’t believe.

    True, many Church members are threatened by differences of opinion. Ideally, they would be secure enough in their own feelings/beliefs/convictions not to feel threatened, and to genuinely welcome folks who view things differently.

    I do believe the purpose/goal of the Church is to provide a setting in which we can encounter the Spirit/God and enter into covenants with God. This is the goal and mission of the Church… So I don’t see Sunday School, for instance, being a place where doubt is promoted. But neither should it be a place where people can’t discuss openly what they are experiencing/thinking/feeling.

    Second, and more importantly, relating to your central point about “authenticity.”

    I do think there’s a problem with the concept of “authenticity” as our culture romantically promotes it…

    No one is an island. We are interconnected and interdependent. So authenticity can never be about just striking off on your own, and telling everyone else to just F-off.

    But neither does our interdependence/interconnection mean that your thoughts/feelings/beliefs/experiences don’t count… That if they don’t seem to fit in with others that they should be suppressed or ignored. Our interdependence with each other means that your experience must be taken seriously and incorporated into whatever collective understanding we achieve. I need to understand how your experience squares with and reflects on mine… If I don’t make that attempt to really hear you and take you seriously and incorporate your understandings into my own somehow, I fail as a human being in some fundamental way. I really believe that…

    Ideally, for me, Church is supposed to be moving us toward the perfect oneness of Zion… That’s not a oneness where your uniqueness and individuality is erased, but where it forms part of the tapestry, where it is interwoven with the uniqueness and individuality of everyone else in some harmonious way.

    Third thought/reaction… We’re all in motion. We’re all in a state of learning, growth, and evolution. So our “authenticity,” whatever that is, is not a static, unchanging thing that we need to somehow hold on to for the rest of our lives… It’s not like we can say, “Here I stand, this is what I believe, and no matter what, nothing is ever going to change me, ever, ever!”

    Lots of people get caught in this… Certainly in the Church! Lots of people think that being true to the Gospel means latching on to some static, absolutistic concept of morality or truth (of course assuming that their limited understanding of the truth = THE TRUTH), and therefore they wed themselves to that limited understanding and become fundamentalists to some idolatrous “truth”… And to my way of thinking, that undermines the whole purpose life, to get stuck in that kind of a rut.

    But it’s true of non-Church people and non-believers too… And in relation to what you’ve said here, I’d say whatever your sense of authenticity is, it should never be about cutting yourself off from others who disagree with you, or trying to somehow insulate yourself from people who believe/view things differently from you…

    I don’t think you’re trying to do that… At least, you don’t do it on-line. But I did kind of sense a discomfort on your part about being at Church. It’s not just that they don’t tolerate you… It feels like you are uncomfortable about the fact that there are people there who really believe, and that makes you feel the odd one out…

    As you know, I guess I’m sort of what you might consider an odd one out at Church… But I feel like Zion won’t be achievable if I’m not there, doing my best… There’s a work afoot that is bigger than any one of us, and that God can’t achieve without all of us… He’s moving us there in many ways in spite of ourselves, if we are willing to put ourselves on the line…

  2. This is why I don’t discuss religion and spirituality with my parents. Not to be flippant…it is simply too emotional and filled with expectations (on both sides). Neither of us are able to be fully rational and reasonable. I want my beliefs to be respected. Despite not being officially mormon for years, my parents still hope (and probably pray) for me to be rebaptized and go through the temple. That’s just how it is.

    I don’t understand the jump from one’s spirituality to social matters…sure, lots of people socialize at church, and find solace in a mutual belief in God. But, the world is full of people who couldn’t care less what your religious beliefs are, which church you were raised in, where you spent Friday night. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your father’s argument.

    All I’m saying is, parents know how to push their kids’ buttons, and often have unique insight into their children’s inner workings. But sometimes that insight is clouded by personal hopes and dreams for one’s children…

  3. John G-W,

    Maybe the church “shouldn’t” be a place where you feel uncomfortable for those things, but that is a reality.

    Why would anyone need to make sure others’ experience squares with theirs when they have God on their side? Basically, you can discount disbelievers or other believers, because you have God on your side.

    Anyway, sorry for not responding to everything you have said. I just don’t even know.

    Aerin,

    Well, this didn’t begin as a discussion of religion/spirituality. It’s just…everything turns into that. (It’s kinda like you said: “I don’t understand the jump from one’s spirituality to social matters.”…except for it was a discussion about social matters that jumped to spirituality.

    The argument is that in society, there are tons of people who will disagree with you on basically anything imaginable (not just religious beliefs, what church you were raised in, but everything else imaginable.) We are supposed to be learning how to interact with people from very different backgrounds, educational, political, social, ethnic, etc.,

    The argument is that church and religions are better at giving people opportunities to interact with people from different backgrounds. His argument is that BECAUSE people in the church believe differently, that’s why it’s valuable to associate with them…because it teaches us all how to get along with one another. And it does so in an environment that shouldn’t be too destructive if you mess up (e.g., no one is going to try to fire you, at least theoretically.)

    So, his argument is that at some point (he says that it was when I came to school and started accomplishing things here), I started believing that I was invincible, that my opinion matters, that I can just express it however and whenever I want to, that I can always just argue that I am right, etc., etc., and that I’ve forgotten how to “get along with others.” And that coincides with rejecting God and the church somehow.

  4. Hmm . . . thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, and how to sort them out?

    My guess is that your self-assertion is part of becoming independent and coming into your own as an adult, and is not of the devil. On the other hand, this phase of a person’s life can be incredibly annoying to people with more life experience–as I’ve gotten older and rolled my eyes at college kids who spout their opinions without having any idea how complicated life really is, I’ve realized I was EXACTLY like those kids when I was in college. My views and the way I express them have become so much more nuanced as I’ve gotten older, and will hopefully become even more so with more time. I wonder if that isn’t some of what your father’s trying to say (though it’s clearly not all he’s trying to say).

    In my personal and not at all scientific opinion, I think authenticity is not as black-and-white as you think it is. In the last couple posts at least, you write as if your authentic self pretty much has to be at odds with society. But chances are that parts of your authentic self agree well with the people around you. I mean, seems to me your desire to constantly improve yourself and not be constantly at odds with people is as much a part of your authentic self as the disagreements.

    Last, I don’t think church is the only place you can learn to get along with people–if you really want to learn it, school and work and clubs and friendships will teach you, with or without religion involved.

  5. Thanks Andrew. I completely disagree that church is a place to learn how to get along with others despite differences. I never learned that in church, and I see few examples of that from organized religion. It reminds me of the Mat Groening cartoon with the two characters discussing religion…there is so much they agree on, until there is one point they disagree on, one calls the other “heretic!”. That’s my experience. It seems to me that removing religion from being state sponsored and allowing more freedom has benefitted society. People are no longer burned at the stake for being heretics.

    As far as the “your opinion matters and express it whenever you want” thing goes…I have to side with your dad. Part of learning to navigate adulthood has been figuring out when and where to express my opinion. (and I’m not always adept at that either)…It’s true. Sometimes opinions are important and worthwhile, but at the end of the day, the circumstances of life don’t change (we need food, shelter, etc.) Some compromises have to be made.

    But this really has nothing to do with a belief in God or spirituality.

  6. dustydistaff,

    Interesting idea (that it could just partially be a “stage” or whatever and I’ll get through it with age/maturity).

    With respect to authenticity, I think that I often talk about it in the extremes. (Basically, one time, the question came up, “So, do you really believe in authenticity? What about someone who is a pedophile/kleptomaniac/[insert something that could feasibly be "part" of a person, but which is at odds with society.] Wouldn’t you say that person should not follow his authentic self?”

    My answer to that question has always been that that person must follow his authentic self. Society may try to take him down, but he shouldn’t take himself down.

    …obviously, most real-world examples are far less extreme than that, but I’m at a point where I’m pissing off enough people to say that whatever I’m doing is “at odds with” a lot of people.

    But chances are that parts of your authentic self agree well with the people around you. I mean, seems to me your desire to constantly improve yourself and not be constantly at odds with people is as much a part of your authentic self as the disagreements.

    This is a good point. But it’s as you said in a previous discussion too..why do I want not to be at odds with people? Because it sucks to have everyone pissed off at you. I don’t really want to change myself. It’s just that others won’t change, so I have to.

    Last, I don’t think church is the only place you can learn to get along with people–if you really want to learn it, school and work and clubs and friendships will teach you, with or without religion involved.

    I think my father’s point is that with these other areas, however, things are far higher stakes. At work, if you piss the wrong person off, then they conspire against you so you lose your job. If it’s at church, then people can do some terrible things to you, but unless different social spheres are connected, your life won’t be ruined.

    aerin,

    Yeah, I think my dad is making a big distinction between “tenets” and “doctrines” that allows him to put all of the bad things in religion as one category, but insist that the core “tenets” of religion are still good. His argument isn’t that the church is so nice and people are so good…but it seems to be closer to the point that people suck, people in the church suck, and that’s precisely why it’s important to deal with them…because in the Real World, people will suck too, but they can hurt you even more.

    With respect to opinions, I guess where he ties it in to God/spirituality is that there are some opinions that cannot be expressed to anyone but God. You may care about these, but they are just too volatile to express in any context whatsoever.

  7. I can see your dad’s point about the church, and I don’t really disagree with the idea of the church as a learning ground. I think, though, that if your background or personality or opinions diverge too much from the mormon norm, getting along requires an unacceptable amount of hiding. And yes, screwing up at church won’t ruin your work life, generally speaking. But as you get older and start a family, the church aims to become your entire social life, so that problems with other members can have dramatic effects on your social network. That seems to affect more women with men, what with the emphasis on becoming stay-at-home moms and having lots of kids, so my perspective on that comes from a different place from your dad’s.

    As for authenticity, maybe you don’t have to change yourself, in general. I mean, as long as you can learn what to avoid in professional settings, the fights caused in personal settings may feel like a fair price to pay for authenticity. I mean, it’s not necessarily wrong to value authenticity over personal relationships or to hold out for relationships where you can feel understood as an authentic person. But I also don’t think it’s wrong to set standards of professionalism for yourself that put certain subjects (or certain ways of addressing them) off limits for yourself.

    “I don’t really want to change myself. It’s just that others won’t change, so I have to.” I sympathize with this. People who easily fit into the majority have no idea what it’s like to make that choice between authenticity and acceptance over and over and over again. It can be crazy-making for sure.

  8. MoHoHawaii permalink

    Hmm… I think your people are out there, but you just haven’t found them yet.

    • in the meanwhile, I have to make sure not to piss off everyone else while I’ll searching…

  9. The central idea is that strong opinions expressed strongly are dangerous. Many people don’t want to hear any opinions but their own, and they do not react well to those of others. So, for the others who express strong opinions, there is always danger that someone will hear and will not like what they heard, and as a result they will react…and their reaction will be to try to neutralize the threat. While you can hope that you can defend yourself against whatever reactions may come, this is a losing battle…because you’re always hoping that your strength will beat their strength. The problem is that there will always be someone stronger than you are. Someone with more power, influence, or friends than you have. And you will not be able to recover.

    What the hell does any of that have to do with authenticity?

    I guess I just feel that to let my story be crushed and unheard is my death. If no one will fight for me, not even me…then how do “I” exist?

    Is that authenticity, or insecurity?

    I can continue the path of authenticity and like myself, but dislike the volatile social situations I get into (and risk pissing someone off in a way from which I cannot recover)…or I can start being an actor again…I can start withholding my voice and opinions, to “fit in” or to “get along.” And I will hate every moment of it, but at least I’ll be “safe.”

    So… authenticity basically means arguing with anyone who disagrees with you?

    • Is that authenticity, or insecurity?

      I guess to answer everything succinctly would be to note that authenticity has been a code word for insecurity.

      So… authenticity basically means arguing with anyone who disagrees with you?

      If I argue, then wouldn’t that really say a lot?

      • I guess to answer everything succinctly would be to note that authenticity has been a code word for insecurity.
        On your part, or in general? Because I would have said that insecurity and authenticity are pretty much opposites.

        If I argue, then wouldn’t that really say a lot?
        It might say that one depends on other people’s opinions — or at least on one’s own reaction to other people’s opinions — to validate oneself. And again, that seems like pretty much the opposite of authenticity to me.

        • on my part.

          I just don’t want people to walk over me. If I don’t get the last word, then it feels like that has happened.

          • I guess you already know this, but that gives other people a lot of psychological power over you.

          • yep…

            >_<

          • Seth R. permalink

            Good thoughts Kuri.

            Just thought I’d mention it since our interactions tend to focus on points of disagreement. I do find myself agreeing with you however, on a variety of occasions. So I thought it was worth noting.

  10. I’m not a Carl Jung fan, but I like one thing he said:

    I would rather be whole than good.

    And I would rather lose a relationship that was predicated on self-censorship, inauthenticity, or falsehood, than to have that person’s approval.

    That’s not a hypothetical. People have ended friendships with me over just these issues, and yes, it’s too bad. But I do not value those friendships more than I value my ability to communicate what I want in my own way.

    • I guess one thing is (channeling my father, trying to understand what he’s trying to say) is that all relationships are based on self-censorship. That’s what “getting along” in a diverse society entails. Unless we seek echo chambers, but then that has different issues.

  11. First of all, it’s apropos of nothing but your dad and my dad would probably get along swimmingly.

    There is much more to life and relationships than work and church. At work, I find that keeping my religious and political ideas to myself has been effective. Depending on your job, of course; a religion or political science professor wouldn’t be able to escape.

    So your dad’s viewpoint is just that, his opinion, that works for him. Part of life is figuring out how to evaluate and accept or reject other people’s opinions. Why would church be the only place to do this? It is a place, but not the only place. I agree with moho, you may not have found your place yet.

    • Seth R. permalink

      I wouldn’t say it’s the only place aerin, as an absolute matter.

      But for me personally it certainly is. Without church, I probably would NOT be socializing. I would not make the effort to create society elsewhere.

      So I know how it would go down for ME. And it ain’t all that pretty.

  12. PS, I should have placed end italics afrer the second place, sorry about that.

  13. You seem to have a very adversarial view of social relations–someone has to be right, someone has to be wrong, someone has to win, someone has to lose, you either silence your adversaries or be silenced yourself. As kuri said, that seems pretty insecure. Perhaps instead of focusing on the effect you have on other people, you should be focusing on becoming secure enough in your authentic self that you don’t need so much validation from other people, and you wouldn’t need to win arguments to prove yourself.

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