When I pursued my higher studies in humanities, the question of authenticity haunted the many thick books of University Library I frequented, the research papers in the journals and online databases. Whose work and whose voice is authentic? Who gets to represent whom? Can a woman represent other women? When a Muslim woman speaks of the atrocity on women in her community, is her voice authentic?
The larger debate was if it was possible for anyone to be authentic. Authenticity presupposed there was something essential, core, permanent in a person or culture. Is there an essence, something essential to being a Woman or a Man or a Christian or Muslim?
Strangely enough when I crossed over to human psychology and changework field, I noted the urging again— “Are you authentic?” Or a more persuasive command— “Be You.”
Issues with Current Reflections on Authenticity
I blinked my eyes bewildered wondering what is or has been authentic in me. Or what does “being me” mean?
For once again, it presupposes there is some essence in me – real, permanent that is not being expressed. In some assertions, I hear of this “real me” hidden deep inside, requiring excavation through layers and layers of endless healing. And I wonder how do people know there is a real-me hidden inside?
Then there are assertions like, “I am me when I am here or with this person; I am not me when I am there or with that person.” What is that about?
And yet others who assert only your baby-self is the real you. Huh. You mean we destroy society and become bawling demanding whimsical babies?
I mean I get the baby-state and flow with which the baby engages with the world. However, let us not get carried away. There is a reason why we grow up.
A Korzybski emphasizes the dynamic changing nature of the “who am I” question – the Bhavana of two years back is very different from Bhavana this morning is different from the Bhavana who is writing this article now. Each relationship, each interaction changes the structure of who I am. Who, therefore, is the authentic me?
From the perspective of human physiology, what does being “authentic” mean? Like if some neural pathways fire, then you are being authentic and the other pathways fire, you are not so? That some parts of my brain should light up and instead of that some other parts are lighting up?
I love Dr Gabor Maté’s work. In one of his talks on Youtube, he reflects on the authenticity question. To him, as I interpreted it, when a person suppresses an emotion (like anger) or feeling (like pain) or ceases to express a need as a maladaptive response to adverse early childhood experiences, the person is not authentic. For example, he spoke of having had a small procedure in his leg and thereafter visiting his aging mother. The moment he stepped into her room, he ceased to limp. He began to walk normally. When he left the room he started to automatically limp. This suppression of pain and self-discomfort for the other is what Dr. Gabor calls as being inauthentic.
Further Dr Gabor connects being authentic to being disease free. That when you cease to suppress any part of you and therefore you are authentic, your biology at the cellular level opens up and flows.
Here is where I disagree. Humans do not live in isolation but in continuous engagement with the world around them. To play socially-appropriate roles is part of social living. Imagine a scenario where you decide to be a teacher. And on a given day, you feel angry with the noisy kids. Does being ‘authentic’ mean you express anger in the classroom? Or imagine another scenario where you invite friends over for dinner. For some reason, you feel sad that evening. Does being ‘authentic’ mean you express sadness through the evening to your guests? Or suppose you had to attend a funeral and you were in jovial mood that day. Do you quip jokes because you are authentic?
Or suppose you did not express these emotions, does that now mean your cells have recorded your inauthenticity and are stressed? And the more dinners you host, the likelihood of you being disease-ridden increases?
The argument appears to be—I am authentic only when I am spontaneous. If I unfortunately play a social role, I have become inauthentic.
Which is in conflict with NLP State management. We might as well throw that out of the window. Or the changework around resilience-building. What is this yearning for the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve did what they did?
Approaching Authenticity Differently
I glimpsed a different approach to the authenticity question in a recent coaching session with Michael Perez, the developer of The Neuron Code, where my outcome was to develop safe ways to step in and out of what I called as “creative madness.” During the session, Michael induced something that I roughly grasped as– All Parts of me are Me who is evolving. This connects to his other reflections in his posts on social media — a sense of being okay with how one is at the moment and to proceed from this space of okayness. Kind of owning and integrating all your parts and yet being in charge of what I express when and how.
All parts—moments when I am spontaneous as well as when I am playing a social role. What I am at a given moment is the choice I flexibly make given my outcomes in the specific context. This then I conclude is authenticity.
With Lucas Derks’ Social Panorama Model, I finally pieced together the different aspects of the authenticity question. An authenticity guide map if you will, on how to use Mental Space to become authentic. Here are the steps (if you are unable to do it yourself, reach out to a Social Panorama Consultant to guide you through the process):
1. In most contexts where we play a social role, there is a self-image to a corresponding feeling.
2. First check, in a specific context, where is your kinesthetic self is located. The kinesthetic self is the one that records the feeling. Is it within your body space or outside? If it is not, are you able to move the feeling within your body space? If not, seek an intervention.
3. Check if self-image is inside your body space or outside. If it is inside, you will be spontaneous. Is it useful for you to be spontaneous in the given context? Or does it make sense for your outcomes that you play a social role? In either case, can you move self-image in/out of your body space as you desire? If not, seek an intervention.
4. Check if the feeling associated with the self-image is what you desire for the context. If not, check the locational characteristics and submodalities of the self-image. Change it using the Social Panorama Model.
5. Check for negative bilocations or shared locations with other personifications. If present, seek an intervention.
6. Lo and Behold, you are authentic in the given context. Not #BeYou but #BeAsYouWantNow.
To find a Social Panorama consultant near you, please email mspacademyindia @gmail.com.