Authenticity is a technical term in existentialist philosophy, and is also used in the philosophy of art and psychology. In philosophy, the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures, and influences which are very different from and other than itself. Authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite these pressures. Different types of existentialist philosophers see this process in different ways. A lack of authenticity is considered to be bad faith.
Andrew R. Warnecke, MA, LPC
In an achievement and image-oriented society, being authentic seems to be as difficult as winning the lottery. The month of May has always been special to me; two of the biggest influences in my life have been my mother and my older sister. May is the month of the mother and also the month of my sister’s birthday. These two fabulous human beings are on their way to self actualization, what Abraham Maslow believed was the pinnacle of the hierarchy of human needs. He said, “What a man is he must be if he is to be at peace with himself.” My mother and sister have dedicated their lives to helping and serving their fellow human beings, so I wanted to dedicate this article to them. My mother just recently retired as the health coordinator of a huge school system in south Florida. She found the pinnacle of career development, called congruence, where your life’s work is your livelihood. She taught me that if I don’t work within that premise, I will most assuredly go without the joy of a really enjoyable career. So I went on the scariest journey ever and found that I, too, wanted to share my faith, wisdom, hope, and suffering with others. I must say that it’s been the hardest job I have ever loved.
As a professional counselor, I see patients with all kinds of psychological problems. I have come to the conclusion that humans can’t really be happy unless we find some sense of our authentic or true selves. One of my favorite philosophers, Martin Buber, tells a story about a Rabbi who on his death bed sees himself as a loser. The Rabbi laments that in the world to come he won’t be asked why he wasn’t Moses, he will be asked why he was not himself. We see so many “successful and famous” people struggle with addiction and idolatry, which often makes for great entertainment in the media. I believe that we are so fascinated with their dysfunction and psychopathology because we see ourselves in them. We seem to want someone to look at, so we can avoid our dysfunction and that greatest of truths… that we want to be more of who we were created to be.
When we are born, we are closest to what I call “the source.” As we get older and become more aware of what we are supposed to be, based on image, we lose ourselves. The path to our authentic self seems to become a climb to the top of Mt. Everest in a bathing suit. Charles Finn wrote a wonderful piece on this called “Please hear what I’m not saying.” I challenge all of you to Google it and have a read. I believe he nailed it back in 1969.
We are living in really hard times, but I have faith that the ground is fertile for a real movement away from HOW we are to WHO we are. I believe that human beings were created to ascend and that we will not find happiness in stuff or things. We have a tendency to look for love and happiness in all the wrong places. I am certain that if we look at ourselves and work on being more authentic, we will pull out of this difficult time, we will transcend, and we will return closer to the source. In closing, I would like to share a few lines from one of my favorite rock songs by a band called Rush:
And the men who hold high places
must be the ones who start
to mould a new reality
closer to the heart
closer to the heart
Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful Mothers!! I love you Mom, Stephanie, and my beautiful wife, Darlene.