There is a fine word. And with much urging telling us to find and be true to our authentic selves, I thought I’d take a crack at it. To get there, let’s think on a few things.
How many people have inputs into your outputs?
Asked another way, how many people do you feel beholden to act, or speak, or dress, or function in a certain way for?
Put in the negative, how many elicit constraints upon you, causing you to refrain from acting, speaking, dressing, or functioning in ways you may privately prefer?
Or this, to whom do you feel obligated to make these accommodations?
And to whom is this obligation legitimately owed?
When people live and work in close proximity to one another, they modify themselves accordingly.
A couple remains a couple so long as they conform themselves the one to the other.
’Tis true, the best relationships require the least remodeling to achieve conformity, but all require some. And in the best relationships, the conforming of partner to partner is what gives each the greatest pleasure and fulfillment.
Families sharing the same dwelling and utilizing the same resources find an equilibrium conferring membership privileges to those who are least able to provide for the resources needed for the family’s well being. Parents and siblings reconfigure their lives outwardly and inwardly to conform to the needs of a new baby. They continue to do so as the child advances in years, feeling themselves obligated to conform the patterns of their own existences to provide the necessities of smaller, shorter, younger persons, unable yet to secure the necessaries of life for themselves. Good parents do this for some eighteen years, not of compulsion, but voluntarily.
And is it not true that at all stages of a baby’s life, save in the first mewling months, that child is shaped, and taught, and fashioned to learn to temper the authenticity of its innocent selfishness to the needs and desires of others? Meaning; as soon as is practicable in most households, training begins to teach and shape the baby for accommodation to the needs of the people on whom it depends for survival. Bed time and nap times are employed. An interval of feeding is established. A rhythm develops. A pattern emerges. Some kind of symbiosis evolves that allows the caretaking parents and older siblings to meet the baby’s needs and appetites without killing themselves in the effort.
It is only during infancy, and quite early infancy at that, that the person is authentic in his unconcern for conforming to the needs of those around him. (The possible exception of this is the extreme advance of old-age.) Unaware of, and unconcerned for, others except as means to his own satisfaction, the infant is a living consumer of the attentions, energies, and efforts of those positioned to give him what he wants and needs. This is tolerably cute at one month, but is a veritable nightmare by age two.
So, when we speak of adults rediscovering their authentic selves, and assign any connotation of selfish indulgence as that, and only that, which is truly genuine, we are speaking of that phase of our lives which existed for perhaps three to six months at most, then vanished, as it should have.
Why then, the desire for authenticity? Especially that described as adhering to one’s true self?
No human, save Adam, was created as a reclusive hermit to live out his days consulting only his own whims and wishes.
If cooperation and adaptability are the hallmarks of enlightened humanity, it is no surprise that Eve was formed out of Adam’s rib. She has no being apart from Adam. And it had already been determined by God Himself, and not Adam, that it was not good for man to be alone. Therefore, he lay down and slept, voluntarily giving, quite literally, of his own substance, to provide the materiel necessary for a life other than his own, he having no being worth having apart from her.
And thus, from the earliest story of our race, we can learn that it is others, and our relationships and adaptability to them that gives rise to our lives. And is therefore that which gives both meaning and richness to our lives. If this is not authenticity, what is?
No one is required to yield to the childish, selfish demands of those who have aged out of infancy and who therefore ought to know better. The law of love is naught but an appeal and reminder to humans to love others As we love ourselves.
The interests of every other person are as important and valuable to them as yours are to you. They are not greater in value and have no greater claim. One may voluntarily choose to love another More than oneself, or act in another’s interests, more than one’s own, but if that person is of similar age and situation in life, it is not obligatory, and it is no part of human authenticity requiring that degree of conformity and accommodation.
But let’s consider that it is the very nature of authentic, genuine human-ness to adapt our lives to those around us. Had not our mothers literally accommodated us in their own bodies, we’d have no selves at all, authentic, or otherwise, right? It is accepting, yielding, and adapting to the life of another that makes life possible at all.
This is a dance in which we sometimes lead and sometimes follow. We sometimes give and sometimes receive, This is human authenticity. He who practices these adaptations best is most authentic and most human.