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. For reasons abstract and profound, that which is genuine calls forth our appreciation and yields richness, meaning and comfort, whether it be objects, art or bold action on behalf of principled convictions.
By what criteria do we deem ourselves authentic, true to ourselves? Day in and day out, we are subjected to conflicting claims about what is valid and valuable; coaxed by voices of unreason to abandon judgment and good will; and destabilized by competition, contingency and urgency. And as Virginia Woolf said, “beyond the difficulty of communicating oneself, there is the supreme difficulty of being oneself. This life within us, by no means agrees with the life outside us.”
So, how to know, be and present ourselves is one of our interests and one of our challenges, too. We may feel stifled, shallow and discontent when we’re not authentic, and we may feel phony when we have to posture, brag or talk, talk, talk to get the admiration and recognition we want for ourselves.
In addition, “the life within” is not immediately thoughtful. Much of it, unfocused and primal, is a reflexive rehash of the desperate do-or-die programming we share with reptiles. They don’t contemplate. They can’t. Virtually all of their nerve cells are already put to use. There’s no neuronal room in their brains to think things over, to consider, to question, to evaluate. But the complexities, multitudes, mysteries and vast resources of human nature provide us with another opportunity. We have extra brainpower that we can put to use — to live a self-determined, authentic way of being that unites the image we project with the private life.
Here are some things to think about when you’re intent upon merging the image and the being.
- Do you have a tendency to “buy” your own press or believe your boasts? Or do you say what you mean and mean what you say?
- Do you unwittingly hide from yourself pockets of ignorance and inexperience?
- If you’re “over-confident” do you sometimes fail to evaluate the risks inherent in reality and, consequently, charge into situations wherein your actual resources are insufficient?
- Do you give yourself credit and proceed as if you had intellectual, educated or social assets you don’t really possess?
- When your efforts to persuade others are not taken seriously, could it be that your actual way of being contradicts the image you think you are presenting?
- Do you sometimes misdescribe reflexive self-indulgence as “natural” and justify — in the name of authenticity — cruelty, pettiness, vengeance, nonfeasance, or excessiveness?
- Does the unexamined desire to be thought nice lead to you being nice instead of straight? [Sometimes, of course, it IS important to be nice.]
- Given the facts about external pragmatic reality and about your current competence at discipline, ethical persuasion and heartfulness, are you misdescribing yourself when you say you “could have done it better?” Are your ideas about yourself and your actual skills levels a mismatch?
Think about it. Isn’t the means to merging the life within us with the demands outside of us an intelligently informed and principled open mind, and an ability to think and see clearly without illusion and delusion driving our thoughts and actions?
And the good news is: 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.
*The painting, now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC is said to celebrate the ideal beauty of the female form, or to be a critique of vanity, or perhaps both.
I’ve been teaching classes on autonomy and life for over 30 years. These classes offer a unique and powerful governing philosophy for practical living. They stand firmly on America’s promise of freedom, justice and equality and the opportunity to create a life of our own design. More information is available on my website: autonomyandlife.com.