Being authentic is one of, if not THE highest ideal in life. We all aspire to know and be the fullest and freest version of who we are. What do you do when your decision to live authentically clashes with others? Its like the old saying “My karma just ran over your dogma.” Does there come a time when you have to compromise your authenticity to get along with others?
I believe there’s a way to create a win/win; to be true to yourself AND invite the best from others.
Like most kids, I studied (and loved) the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It offers an amazing illustration in being authentic without being offensive.
You likely know the story. Atticus Finch is a white lawyer defending a black man on rape charges in a racist 1930′s town in the deep south of America. He approaches it with a fierce determination to seek justice. He says to his kids,
I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. When you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.
Being authentic for Atticus includes this drive to see the cause through to resolution, no matter how impossible the odds. But the real hero in my favorite scene was his daughter, Scout. One night when tension is running high, Atticus camps out in front of the jail to protect the accused black man. A posse of racists turn up for a lynching and demand that Atticus step aside.
While Atticus is trying to talk sense into them, his kids turn up. They run through the crowd and stand with their Dad. Then Scout does something incredible that saves the whole situation. She doesn’t know she’s doing anything. She’s just being herself. She spots the dad of one of her school buddies in the crowd, and talks to him by name. She asks him to say “hey” to his son. At first he looks down awkwardly but she pushes it and eventually he breaks and says he will say “hey” to his son from Scout. Once Scout had made the human connection with him, she reminded him that people are people. “There’s only one kid of folks; folks.” The angry crowd left soon after Scout connected with the man.
Earlier in the novel, Atticus said to Scout,
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
Maybe kids have more ability to do this, before the protective instincts have years to build walls of fear around adults. If we truly see the humanity in another person, we can stay true to ourselves, while acknowledging the journey of another person.
The novel makes two powerful points about authenticity.
1. You HAVE to be true to yourself.
Atticus spoke words that could be authenticity’s anthem;
They’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.
2. You have to respect others’ rights to freedom.
We’re not always good at practicing this, but an ideal of western democracy is that no one is truly free until all people are free. Atticus gave a passionate courtroom speech. In it he said the classic words,
In our courts all men are created equal.
1. plus 2. equals the highest YOU
Being authentic without being offensive is a balance. It grows out of a fundamental belief that ALL people are valuable and if you’re authentic life rides roughshod over other people, its likely not your authentic life but rather a fearful defense.
Best of all, you become more fully yourself when others thrive. Neal Donald Wash, author of Conversations with God put it like this,
The larger your understanding of who you really are, the smaller your ego.
The larger your understanding of who you are, the more you feel connected to others, the more you want others to soar. From your highest perspective, your true self is never threatened by others, and your authentic expression is no threat to anyone else.
Conversely, the smaller your perspective on authenticity, the less connected you fee to others, the more competitive you feel, the greater the conflict in your life.
Authenticity from the highest perspective is a win/win. Show your greatness by making someone else shine. Be your true self by helping someone else be their true self.