This is the fourth part in a series on taking the masks off and living authentically. The first article is about the power of authenticity. The second is about authenticity’s payoff. The third offers practical steps to live more authentically. This fourth piece is about the connection between living authentically and the needs of the planet.

Jim Morrison, front man for The Doors, starts us off with a reminder that all revolutions begin as personal transformation.

The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first. You can take away a man’s political freedom and won’t hurt him- unless you take away his freedom to feel. That can destroy him. That kind of freedom can’t be granted. Nobody can win it for you.

Taking Jim’s ideas a step further, what’s the connection between your own personal revolution of authenticity and your responsibility to others; your family, community, nation, all beings, the future of the planet etc?

1.       Healthy Movements Are Made Up Healthy Individuals

The authenticity of revolutionary movements like the current “Occupy _____” movement are measured by the integrity of the individuals involved. If people are involved for honest and self aware reasons, the movement will succeed. If people are directing mindless anger at unknown targets due to their personal frustration, it will fail. It’s all about the masks, recognizing when you wear them and knowing why you wear them. The first step for any activist is to occupy your own mind and heart before occupying streets, to make sure you are participating for healthy reasons and not just to create new layers of drama.

2.       Know Why You’re Doing What You’re Doing

Masks are popular at protest rallies. A few recent protestors discovered that it can be dangerous to wear masks. 5 protestors were arrested in New York under an obscure, 150 year old statute that bans masked gatherings. It can also be personally dangerous to wear masks without knowing why you’re wearing them.

One of the most popular protest masks is Guy Fawkes, in honor of the 16th century English revolutionary. Guy Fawkes was executed after his failed attempt to blow up the Parliament building. Even today people commemorate the occasion by setting off fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes. In many ways it’s an odd choice for an “Occupy” mask. Guy Fawkes was a violent terrorist, who hated the government and failed in his objective. The “Occupy” movement claims to be non violent. It’s angry at corporate greed not the government, and it intends to succeed. So I’m not sure in this case what the Guy Fawkes mask, with its slightly self satisfied smile, signifies.

To act passionately, out of a keen awareness of why certain causes give you goose bumps, why change is essential, and how your actions are improving the situation, is true mastery for an activist.  Without this master, any protest movement will lose its way, or become violent and destructive. An open hand holds more water than a closed fist. (Read on for more about authenticity and the needs of the planet.)

3.       Authenticity Is Not A Private Matter

The Guy Fawkes mask had a resurgence after the success of the book and film “V for Vendetta”. Set in Britain in the 1980s and 90s, the hero wears a Guy Fawkes mask and fights the oppressive government.  In a profound philosophical moment in the movie, V’s love interest wants to know who he is beneath the mask. He says,

There is a face beneath this mask but it’s not me. I’m no more that face than I am the muscles beneath it or the bones beneath them.

In this case, the mask IS significant. V is saying that it’s not about him. It’s about what he is standing for. It’s not about his identity. It’s about the ideas he is fighting for. Authenticity is not just a private matter. Being yourself is not just a personal concern. Authenticity is an expression of who you are, and the more you know yourself, the more you realize how connected you are to all others. As Neal Donald Walsh said,

The larger your understanding of who you really are, the smaller your ego.

The larger your understanding of who you are, the less authenticity becomes a private concern. It’s about who you are in relation to all else. Anything that threatens the rights and authenticity of one, affects the rights and authenticity of all.

Psychologist Carl Jung described the process of becoming authentic as individuation. This is my crude version of Jung’s ideas. Authenticity begins for a teenager as rebellion and non conformity. It’s all part of testing the boundaries of independence. You push your family away, test the patience of teachers, wear dark clothes and become a school yard anarchist. This is all good and healthy. But it’s only the first part of a larger process. When you find your authentic self as a healthy adult, you don’t need to push. You integrate. You uncover the shadows, which are often where the masks come from, and heal them. A lot of what you see at protests is teenage rebellion.

V offers a timely warning to occupiers around the world- have a healthy enough sense of self, not to let the roles get in the way of the message. There is just as much chance of group think and mindless conformity at a protest rally as there is in a school yard. The basic message of redistribution of wealth is an important message, and one that most of the world can unite around….if we can get beyond the masks, beyond the roles, beyond the personalities. It’s not about being a protestor or a rebel. Authenticity in this case is a recognition that while some suffer under the global economic system, we all suffer because at the heart of who we are, we are all one.

I end with an optimistic story, about someone who expressed his authentic self by nurturing authenticity in another person.

A young boy was taking piano lessons. His mother rewarded him by taking him to hear a concert pianist. On the way to their seats, the boy spotted the piano on stage and slipped away from his Mom. The mother sat down and was horrified to see her son sitting at the Steinway grand piano on stage. The crowd laughed nervously as he began to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” When the boy realized there was a huge crowd listening to him he became nervous and started missing notes.

At that moment, the concert pianist entered the stage. He whispered in the boy’s ear, “Keep playing. We will play together.” He reached over and began playing harmonies on either side of the boy’s one fingered Twinkle Twinkle. Everyone, including the boy, was captivated. The pianist had chosen to express a larger aspect of his own nature and in the process had created space for a young boy to flourish.

In your process of heightened authenticity, one of the most enlightened questions you can ask yourself is, what am I doing to make another person flourish? What am I doing to make a community stronger? What am I doing for the common good of current and future generations?

Whether you’re making someone else sound good on a piano, hitting the streets with placards or performing random acts of kindness, see yourself as intimately related to all else. Your true self wants to find its expression, and because your true self only wants the best for EVERYONE, your highest expression of authenticity is kindness.

As Gandhi said,

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

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  1. [...] final piece in this series looks at the relationship between your authentic life and the needs of the [...]

  2. [...] of authenticity. The third piece outlines some practical steps to recover your true essence. The fourth piece explores the connection between individual authenticity and the needs of the [...]

  3. [...] of living authentically. Part three outlines some practical steps to living more authentically. Part four looks at the relationship between each of us as individuals living authentically and how this [...]

  4. The thoughts your article invokes, and the possibility of a world of individuals living authentically, make my heart sing.

  5. Peggy says:

    There are some exceptionally well-made points in here! Thank you!

  6. Your articles are timely, and timeless as well. I appreciate them very much.

  7. ian says:

    thanks Rebecca- your encouragement is timely and timeless as well. I appreciate you very much

  8. I enjoyed your very sane take on both the philosophical thoughtful approach to being activist and the occupy movement.You seem to be saying what is obvious. The participants are all about mob action and their results are harming their good intent because the are not focused on the truth just the behavior.

  9. Indrani says:

    There seems to be considerable misunderstanding by those not in the Occupy movement about what the movement is about and the aims it has. It’s not perfect (like many social movements), but it has important points missed by the author and commentators of this blog. I can see some of those misunderstandings being perpetuated on this blog post and site in general in fact. I would suggest checking out some of the considerable media around this movement that’s not covered in the mainstream media. Part of what Occupy is trying to reveal by the way, is the collusion of corporations and the government in basically stripping regular people of dignity in a variety of ways. Most people do not make half a million a year and are therefore not represented by current corporate and government interests.

    Remember that the mainstream media tends to support major corporations and the government policy decisions that benefit the richest 1%, and as a result, doesn’t necessarily publish views or articles that are in the best interest of most working people. There is lots of information and misinformation out there – do your research instead of making assumptions. By reading this and other posts on this site, I can see that the author has little understanding of the movement.

    Anyone who thinks we live in a true democracy really needs to inform themselves about who their governments actually represents. There’s a good chance it’s not the people who supposedly voted for them at the ballot box, but rather those who “voted” for them through their lobbying dollars. It’s in everyone’s best interests to do their due diligence around getting informed fully about what’s going on.

  10. Indrani says:

    One other thing I wanted to mention is that in their day (and to this day sometimes!), the leaders of the civil rights, women’s rights, etc. movements have all had their critics and many people thought they were out of their minds at the time. History of course, seems to have proven otherwise in the interim, though the pendulum has swung the other way (and seems to be swinging back again)!

    At one time, a simple idea like women or people of colour obtaining the right to vote was considered absolutely ludicrous and dangerous. Sadly, there are still people who think this way now, but in general the tide turned a long time ago. The question regarding something like the Occupy (and related) movement(s) is not “what’s the validity in this” but rather “do you want to be left behind?”.

  11. Nice blog!  Thanks!

  12. Anna Aaberg says:

    The best article I’ve read in a long time. This is the core of  personal developement, this is why we have to guide our children to live in authenticity. It is for the common good. So many people are wearing masks (symbolicly) in their lives – at work, at home, with friends, even when they are alone. The larger your understanding of who you really are, the smaller your ego.
    Thank you! Sharing this at https://www.facebook.com/500thrills.
    /Anna