What Is Really Happening When We Feel Authentic?
Unsettling research suggests authenticity isn’t what we think.
Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.
— Coco Chanel
If Chanel is right, we are jonesing for authenticity now more than we have in a while. Why would it be that adversity and unhappiness make us yearn for authenticity? Our culture, American culture in particular, places such a high value on authenticity possibly because we idealize honesty and truth (“truth, justice and the American way”) almost to the point of fetish. As our cherished national beliefs are challenged by the events of the times, each new revelation means that America’s claim to the high road is getting weaker and weaker.
For many of us, it’s harder than ever to believe in those ideals, perhaps strengthening the resolve to reestablish them — while also engendering potentially dangerous cynicism. For others, we feel like the needed day of reckoning is finally arriving under our current leadership, a long needed breath of fresh air.
The importance of being authentic
Even in the absence of the current crisis facing the national psyche, American individualism demands that each and every person fully actualize, express unique characteristics and talents, and fully live according to one’s inviolable values, true to oneself. In this light, self-actualization takes on a near-sacred quality, representing the pinnacle of a life well lived. According to research, however, self-actualization is primarily about status and success, predominantly in professional circles and in caring for one’s kin — far more mundane than a heroic journey of self-discovery — though spirituality itself can be a potent status-marker among homo sapiens.
Case-in-point, the current interest in “authentic leadership”, as trust and honesty demand a premium valuation in the current corporate environment. Personal and commercial spheres colliding and becoming inextricably entangled in first-world countries, as big data and machine learning allows our personal habits on the internet to guide marketing efforts. Authenticity sells, but only top-grade, 100 percent genuine authenticity — and business gurus are making the…