THE TASK OF AUTHENTICITY
To summarize thus far, the Self entails three key ingredients: freedom, choice, and responsibility. We create our sense of Self with the choices we make, the sense of responsibility with which we approach our existence, and the way we use our freedom despite our constraints.
It’s taken me a while to come to a place where I find this premise empowering. This perspective is hard and uncomfortable, and I used to be seriously triggered by it. It’s similar to that feeling we get the first time people treat us as an adult. When someone has the audacity to tell us to make our own choices or take responsibility for our mistakes. How dare they? I remember thinking. What? I am supposed to just, like, adult now, all on my own? I shouldn’t be allowed to be in charge of myself!
The icing of this triple-layered existential cake (which I’m guessing might be tasting a bit too dense right now) is that although freedom is always there presenting us with choices, no one can tell us what to do with it. Whatever we choose to do, or not do, we are responsible for.
Here is an example Sartre shared: A man came to him asking for help in making a decision. He had to choose to go fight in the war he believed in (although his role would probably be small) or stay and take care of his elderly mother who was all alone (and be a big part in a small cause). Sartre stated that no one could help him find the “right” answer because there is no right answer until the man chose one. The right answer is an authentic answer, and no one else could lead him to the decision that was truly authentic. So, his choice—no matter what it was—was the only true choice.
“Authenticity” really is the word du jour in modern culture. Which is lovely, except somewhere along the way to making it trendy, we’ve managed to strip it of its weight and meaning. The word “authentic” has been grossly misused, overused, and watered down in an effort to make it more accessible. So, to try to avoid confusion going forward, let’s explore what I mean by authenticity.
To say something is authentic is to say that something is what it professes to be, what it is believed to be, or that it represents what it truly is. But we cannot talk about human authenticity without talking about the Self. Does being authentic mean being one’s Self? Does it mean being at one with one’s Self? Or, does it mean representing one’s Self?
In the framework of existential analysis, I understand authenticity as finding peace and a center within ourselves. Authenticity is a space where our doubting ends and we feel grounded, like we have hit the depth within (inner resonance). It’s the deep, intuitive feeling (sense) or rightness of our being (Dasein). It is when we can finally say yes to who we are (offer inner consent in any given moment). The essence of who we are can only come through attunement, and attunement is only possible through intimate knowing. Just like we can’t know the message of a song unless we listen to the lyrics, we can only know our Self by paying attention. So tune in. Try all the eggs.
Authenticity is having a sense of Self that says: This is me, in this moment, this is how I want to be.