Author: Jim Reger
To be able to identify and pursue what you genuinely want for yourself while also maintaining close relationships with others- and allowing them to also be themselves- is one of the major attributes of an authentic person. Most of us are able to do only one of these things at a time. We either conform to the culture in order to be accepted, or cut ourselves off from others in order to be ourselves.
As a youngster one of my all time favorite movie scenes was about Br’er Rabbit and the tar baby. Br’er Rabbit, in the famous Joel Chandler Harris story of the old south, walks along the road of life, whistling and happy, until he encounters the tar baby on the side of the road, who immediately starts to insult him. Br’er Rabbit’s response is to physically strike out at the tar baby because he thinks he would not be true to himself if he were to let someone say nasty things about him. But by kicking and hitting the tar baby he ends up getting completely embroiled in the tar. So he actually loses his own perspective by reacting to someone else’s evaluation of him. It is the same with people. The more we react to other people’s opinion of us, the more we lose touch with our own opinion of ourselves.
People who are primarily dependant on others for a sense of worth and self-esteem spend most of their time and energy seeking approval, rather than pursuing their own goals, and subsequently they usually end up with less than they might otherwise achieve - in all ways. They are obsessed with getting approval, praise and love from others instead of from themselves.
Truly authentic people are able to be themselves, to do and say what they want, think and feel, without undue concern about whether others will approve or criticize. They can be open about themselves and accept the differences of others without reacting when others try to get them to change in some way. However, and this is important, they are also open-minded about the possibility of change and are willing to re-evaluate their point of view when presented with new information.
Authentic individuals are willing to think through their positions when they encounter different points of view. They have an attitude of curiosity and can set their own limits while also considering the views of others. They do not put down others who do not see things the same as they do. They respect them and are open to learning from them - and most importantly - they are willing to do this with the people who are closest to them, resulting in relationships of greater meaning and significance.
Being authentic means you are able to clarify your own values and decide what is most important to you. You are able to live your life in a way that is truly expressive of who you are - your wants, beliefs and values - in your relationships with your family, work, or else where. This does not mean you always express your opinions, with disregard for the opinions or feelings of others. It simply means you consciously choose how you want to be in any situation.
Questions for reflection
- Are there aspects of your personality that you hide from some people in your life because you think they would disapprove or dislike you?
- To what extent are your actions dependent on the reactions of others?
- How well are you able to be authentic and also be close to others?