We are now a culture obsessed with authenticity.

We’ve donned a peevish perspective on social media, on networking, on new friendships– basically on anything that might not feel “real” enough to us. We expect everyone to divulge everything.

Authenticity is a good thing (at least, it used to be). The notion that I can be honest about my emotions, my progress, my struggles, and my opinions is a freedom I’ll continue to cherish.

But this trend of being authentic– of chasing some imaginary level of authenticity– is a tiresome game. I’m wary of its pushy nature, because it’s starting to look a lot like any other attention-mongering scheme. 

Authenticity has become what we expect; and what we expect is to be shocked. We love confessions. We love peering behind the curtain to see the “real deal.”

In other words, authenticity is no longer pure. It’s fraught with expectations, pressures, and a strangely insecure self-confidence that seems to be throwing wisdom to the winds.

when authenticity becomes the recipe for disaster

Authenticity becomes disastrous…

When I feel the need to know everything.

Perhaps our hunger for this bare-all authenticity is due to the fact that we already know too much about people we don’t know at all. One of the reasons why I stay away from celebrity gossip is that the idea, when we really think about it, is kind of ridiculous. Why do we feel that need to know everything about someone’s life? Why do we become angry when they don’t divulge it?

I’m becoming more and more comfortable with not knowing everything— even about the people I love. Instead I seek to be sensitive, to read their behavior and to listen well. What I lack in information I can more than make up for by being observant and compassionate. 

When I feel the need to divulge everything.

We all need people in our lives to whom we can speak our minds, share our hearts, and feel safe and supported while doing it. But we don’t all need a public platform to do so– nor should we seek that.

Finding emotional refuge in the presence of loved ones is far different from the kind of social media authenticity that is so in vogue today. I believe that all media is highly edited and perhaps should stay that way– so that we can remember to be transparent with the people we actually do life with. 

When I no longer care about the impact I’m having.

“I’m just being myself” is often an excuse for behavior that is hurtful, counterproductive, or simply unwise. It’s easy to say such things in the name of authenticity– when the posture underneath is one of complacency.

There’s this strange idea that if everyone would just be themselves, then the world would be a better place. But there have been countless moments when I could have chosen to recklessly be myself– but instead chose to be kinder, more compassionate, more forgiving. I don’t regret those moments when I chose not to be completely myself, but rather to reach for higher standards than what felt natural.

When I stop seeking wisdom from people I trust.

Authenticity leads to disaster when I stop desiring to grow and improve. One moment of raw emotion is genuine at first, but quickly spirals into maybe this is who I am.

I choose to be careful with authenticity because I don’t want to be stuck. I want the people around me to challenge me, to speak into my flaws, and foster changes in my life and my hurt. I don’t want them to look upon my imperfection and think that’s the way I’ll always be. And if most of us are honest, we all desire to be better people in the future than we are now.

When I begin to doubt the honesty of people I love.

Authenticity, which has the potential of bringing people closer to each other, can also have the opposite effect. Seeking impossible standards of authenticity in our friends can make them seem disingenuous to us. Becoming angry at our loved ones for not being sufficiently authentic can ruin our relationships with them– before they’re able to feel safe enough to be more vulnerable.

The search for authenticity by today’s standards can set into motion a perpetual cycle of disappointment. If we can lay aside our idea of what authenticity should look like, and embrace where people are in their self-awareness, then our relationships can be freed from that added pressure on our behavior.

How to use authenticity well

We should be genuine. We should be vulnerable. But there’s no reason to use our desire for those good things to excuse our behavior or to push people away. And it certainly is the wrong way to bring important issues to light; we should instead spell out our true desires and motives, rather than masking them under the blanket of authenticity.

Let’s make authenticity pure again. Let’s not use it as an impossible standard by which to get attention, to punish our friends, or to behave in ways that negatively affect other people. Let’s be humble and strive towards good things. Let’s be honest in that journey, too.