In recent years, popular culture has decided that the majority of our lives are lived out unauthentically. You’ll get a lot of head nods when call out the need for authenticity, but by and large the majority of the populace lives with a buffer, a barrier that prevents others from seeing their authentic selves. This is so prevalent that we’ve developed an interesting subculture of occasionally piercing that barrier to let people in to see our real selves.
We call this “being real”.
This is a phrase that has permeated through every level of our social structure. It has made itself into our corporate culture in the form of “intimate fireside chats” with their executives. It has invaded our music culture: “can I be real a second, for just a millisecond” (bonus points if you can figure out where that’s from). It has invaded our youth culture and has made its way into urban dictionary (“are you fo’ real?”). Across the board, we have realized that there is such a lack of unauthentic life that we as a society have deemed it necessary to label things “real”.
Much of the time though, being real is associated with being negative. So often, someone will say “hey, I’mma be real with you” and then go on to complain about something, be negative about something, or say something quite derogatory and demotivating to the listener. Being real at a group level has subtly mutated into gatherings where people feel uninhibited to be negative and to make strong, baseless remarks about some aspect of life that they haven’t fully taken the time to examine and to ruminate on.
My sons, being real does not give you carte blanche to be a jerk.
Being real ought to mean being authentic, ought to mean piercing the shroud and sharing our vulnerable selves with the other party. It ought to bring about a deeper connection to those around us with whom we are expressing ourselves without facade, without pretense. Being real should be associated with letting people in, with showing people our full and true selves, flaws, blemishes, and all. Being real should lead to a beautifully connected life where one knows and is known.
A few reasons for this.
WE LONG FOR CONNECTION
Human beings are relational creatures. Whether you believe in creation or evolution, we were created for relationship and our evolutionary traits have by and large weeded out the lone wolf urges and instincts such that we survive and thrive in packs, in tribes, in communities. The good book tells us in Ecclesiastes that “though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”
We long for deep connection not just as a means of physical survival but of mental and emotional stability, safety, and flourishing as well. From a young age we develop a disdain for fakes and phonies. In our very core we know that relationship requires trust, and trust requires honesty, vulnerability, authenticity.
AUTHENTICITY ALLOWS US TO LOWER OUR GUARD
We’ve all done this. We’ve all got defenses that we put up, self-preservation techniques and tactics that we’ve employed in our lives. We all have insecurities and shortcomings that cause us to take a defensive posture towards life.
And we all know that it is exhausting having to constantly have your guard up.
Authenticity allows us to come as we are, to lower our guard, to be seen and known with all our inadequacies. It allows us to divert our energy from having our guard up and allows us to refocus that energy on growth, on moving life forward, on building up other people. It allows us to remove our scrutinizing gaze from ourselves and instead look up to see the world around us that needs us.
BEING REAL MEANS WE ARE FREE TO RICHLY EXPERIENCE LIFE
Henry Ford once said that
“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.”
By acknowledging our inadequacies and imperfections we unlock our minds to developing character, to experiencing life fully and richly, with all its ups and its downs. Being authentic with ourselves and with others allows us to be in the moment, to fully experience the richness and the depth of every experience. To grieve unconstrained and unashamed, to savor unfiltered and unforgettably, to laugh uproariously and obnoxiously, and to love uninhibited and unafraid.
My sons, I pray that you live lives that are authentic and real. That you surround yourselves with others who see you and know you, and love you in spite of and because of that. I love you boys!