Have you ever had a moment when you knew you were being the best “self” you could be? How about the opposite, when you knew you were somehow presenting to those around you, in that particular moment, the worst of your “self”?
Authenticity. Being “authentic” is not just the craze; it’s the litmus test we have to pass. Is there a worse criticism to lob at someone than “you’re not being authentic?” Kierkegaard declared “To will to be himself is man’s true vocation.” One of the greatest praises you can receive is for someone to declare that “you are the same everywhere you go.”
I want to point out a tension in this thinking and ask a couple of simple questions.
Just how does the face we present to the world arrive? Does it arrive by natural organic process, so that if we simply “stay out of the way,” our “authentic” self will arise? Or is the self determined by choices we make regarding our state(s) of being as we move from moment-to-moment? If I feel lousy, is it more authentic to cave in to the lousy, presenting my lousy-feeling-self to everyone who comes along? In the authentic self, does negative-feeling-state beget negative attitude and negative action while positive-feeling-state begets positive attitude and action?
It’s pretty easy to recognize there’s something wrong with that idea.
Is it an inauthentic move to give the world your “better self” everyday, regardless of how you feel? When our state of being is under siege, and our feeling-state is primarily negative (pick your word–depression, stress, upset, down), is it inauthentic to take action in the opposite direction, and say…smile? What is the difference between the struggling Sunday worshipper who “puts on a mask” and offers his friends an “inauthentic” version of himself, and the struggling worshipper who strains under the weight of his difficulty to offer those around him his “best” or “better” self?
“Be the best you can be” is a cliche and a joke in our age of authenticity. We mock such platitudes…and then spend lots of money on books to tell us how to be just that–the best of who we are physically, emotionally, professionally, and spiritually. And authenticity, of course, is assumed to be part of what being our better self requires.
Each of us knows a bothersome little secret: there are moments when for whatever reason, the best of who God made us to be, arises. Arrives. And we also know that there are moments when we are quite clear that we have just seen the worst of ourselves. Life is mostly lived somewhere in between. But being “authentic” cannot mean that we are at the whim of emotion’s winds. Whatever it means, being authentic must mean living in the struggle between illusory selves and true selves, selfish selves and loving selves, lying selves and honest selves.
The simple question is this: have we determined to give our best or better selves to the world today? (Since you’re asking how, I refer you to Peter Block’s The Answer to How is Yes.)
And if I don’t feel like being my best self today, is it inauthentic to bring my best self anyway? Or do I choose not to because it’s just really hard?
And what makes me think “Resistance” (Pressfield, The War of Art) will be overcome by anything less than the best of what God is doing in me?
There are issues in these questions, I know. But while we debate them, is it too much to ask that we bring our best or better selves to the debate? And to the work of the day?
What happens to a day when, by God’s grace, we bring our best selves to bear?
Let’s go find out…