Authenticity is one of those concepts that you will, no doubt, have heard about but what does it mean? The breadth of meanings associated with authenticity do nothing to help create a ‘one size fits all’ definition. To really understand authenticity it helps if you have a grasp on the different disciplines of authenticity.
Authenticity can be viewed from many angles:
1st Angle – Commonly used definitions
Commonly used definitions of authenticity include:
- Historical – Is something of the age it proports to be, like a 17th century house rather than a house made to look like one?
- Original – Warren Bennis describes queuing up outside the Louvre to see one of the great masters paintings as an attempt to get close to the original even though he could get a better view looking on the internat.
- Honest and truthful – Focusing on the extent to which your behaviour reflects your TRUE self, the self-development world has taken this definition to their heart.
2nd Angle – Essentialist philosophy
The essentialist school if thought supports a principle that our self, our calling, our life goals are set from birth. We become truly authentic when we achieve our vocation. If you are interested in essentialist philosophy look for Jean Jacques Rousseau.
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
― Carl Gustav Jung
3rd Angle – Existentialist philosophy
Where essentialist philosophy uses an internal focus (self is in us from birth), existentialist philosophy uses an external focus. The self is at the mercy of the whims of the environment and is shaped by external forces. If you are interested in existential philosophy look for Jean-Paul Sartre or Martin Heidegger.
“He is learning that the feelings which exist are good enough to live by. They do not have to be coated with a veneer”
― Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy
4th Angle – Virtue conception
Virtue ethics seeks to understand whether we think being authentic is a good thing or not. Despite several philosophers highlighting the dark side of authenticity (people doing evil things because they think that is part of their self) it is generally thought that authenticity is a good thing. There is a danger however, that authentic acts are considered a social venture which reduces the possibility of an individual standpoint.
5th Angle – Authenticity as part of social identity
All the above positions assume we have one identity, one self, one being whether that is set at birth or developed during our lives. When we are authentic we behave and feel in accordance with that identity. Sounds simple? The issue we have is that social identity theory operates on the basis we have our personal identity and a social identity. Our social identity is based on the social group we are in like parent, or engineer or musician or sprinter. Each social group has a set of optimum behaviours, the behaviours we need to demonstrate if we wish to be perceived as a member of that group. The difference between those behaviours and our perception of how well we match up to those behaviours is our level of authenticity as a member of that group.
Things to consider:
- Authenticity has many guises some useful, some not.
- Context is critical when talking about authenticity. Authentic as a …
- Acting according to your true self can cause problems if you don’t consider the context.
If you are interested in discussing authenticity or want us to present new insights to your group or conference please contact us.