This week’s daily-post prompt is: radical authenticity. I tend to agree with a young blogger, who mused that the term sounds very much Southern Californian: Know yourself and be your best self now. I’ve though about this term a lot, and frankly, I am still not sure what it means. Being authentic, is one thing, but radically so? Does that mean, come what may? Regardless of the circumstances? Is that similar to being brutally honest? Is it even a good thing? Or does it just mean be true to yourself. But then what is the radical part. And whatever it means, is it actually ever really possible? Is authenticity not also influenced by the situations and the people we interact with? The social context? Are we not different, depending on who we speak to, their mood potentially, or the language we are using, the cultural environment? Radical authenticity will also mean different things to different cultures, what in a US context might seem “toned-down”, might seem brutally radical in a Japanese context.
As I struggle I check Merriam-Webster. Authentic means: real or genuine, true and accurate. I think of the people I interact with, the farmer, with whom I discuss chickens, their laying cycle, and that they end up as zoo animal fodder once their working-life is over. Or the challenges of raising free-range beef. The waitress, who tells me about her terrible work day, after I enquire if she is ok. The friend who admits she doesn’t like to call me when I’ve had a bad day. The old lady I meet at the local shop. She has reduced price articles in her shopping basket. She admires the spotted orchid I am buying. She makes me think about all those lonely old people without friends. She inspires me to go back into the shop, grab a second orchid and give it to her as a present. The owner of an oriental rug shop, with whom I discuss plant-dyes and industrial carpet production and share a moment of quiet awe looking at an antique Persian rug. The wine-salesman, who calls me every 5 months, he is very pushy, he is very insistent, and I find myself getting irritated, while being too polite to hang up the phone.
I’d say I am authentic in each interaction, but the person I am with the farmer is not the person I am with the oriental rug expert. I am authentically me when I don’t hang the phone up on the wine-merchant too, although, if I had time to get ready for the call, I’d also be authentically me in telling him to delete my number from his files….
So I am not sure there is only one way of being radically authentic for humans, who, over the span of their lifetime, evolve, ideally and in most cases (but not all, sadly) mature and change and, who, are influenced so strongly by hopes and fears, thoughts, and concerns, love and loathing.
A human being is transient in nature, we evolve. We change our houses, our partners, the countries we live in, our political allegiance, we reason with ourselves and we spend half our lives trying to figure out who we were in the first place. So I’d have to say perhaps we can only be mindfully radically authentic.- in each unique moment. So I conclude:
Radical authenticity is the premise of the immutable.
Which is why there is a photograph of a flower at the top of this post.
The plant pictured grows in Italy. It likes the sun, it flowers copiously all summer if put in the right environment. The plant does well close to the sea-side, it doesn’t need much water, if over-watered it will not do well. If the temperature is not warm enough it won’t flower for long or at all. If there are not sufficient hours of sunlight in the summer and the winter, perhaps it won’t ever flower. And if it gets too cold, the plant will die.
It does well under a very clearly defined set of parameters. It is radically true to it’s needs. If it is too wet, it will die. If it is too cold, it will die. If the earth it is planted in is the wrong kind of earth, it will not flourish. There is no way you can convince it to change its nature. Its nature indeed changes not at all and is not open to the voice of reason.
That, for me, is radically authentic.