Today’s world seems to be steadily moving into a much more empathetic mindset as we individually, and ultimately collectively, begin to awaken to the fact that a deterministic mindset isn’t working.
We are doing what many species before us have done, mainly slowly bringing about our own extinction through specialization. To be clear, the brain, although a secondary organ, has, over the last century, in particular, become the organ in which we specialize. With the rise of the industrial revolution, and in particular the rise of technology, we dedicate more and more resources to the brain and less and less resources to the body at large. We spend more time attached to devices that feed the brain, but starve our health, connection and common sense. And we are witnessing the results of this specialization in the rapid decline of our habitat, planet earth.
One of the corrosive side effects of brain specialization is a loss of authenticity. We attach more and more emphasis and importance to thought and slowly lose our authentic selves in the echo chamber that society has become. We question our value if we are not receiving the “appropriate” amount of affirmation in the responses of our fellows to what we say and do. And this formula slowly makes us less and less unique, or authentic, and more and more just like everyone around us.
In her recent book “Braving the Wildness: The Quest for True Belonging,” Brene Brown shared a powerful example of this. In 1976, only 26% of the US population lived in counties where the presidential election was decided by a landslide (20+ points). By the 2016 presidential election, this had more than doubled to over 61%. This means that in the 1970s our communities were far more politically balanced than they are now. Politically, they were purple, a mix of red (conservative) and blue (liberal). We lived nearer to people with differing political views. Now, it is harder and harder to find neighbors with differing political views who can even get along.
Ironically, this is all happening in a time when we are supposedly more and more “tolerant.” That tolerance just doesn’t seem to extend to our living arrangements. While we look back at history as a time of degradation, intolerance and the automation of questionable social morality, the truth is we were able to have a better experience of diversity then than we do now. In the year 2019, it is a revolutionary act to have a differing opinion from your community, be that physical or online. Not only is it a revolutionary act, but it can be an act that separates and ostracizes you from your community, regardless of how much you actually contribute to said community. This is a huge red flag. We are either going to have to learn how to have difficult conversations and civil disagreements, or we are going to continue morphing into the exact same people, all speaking alike, all acting alike, and all tragically and utterly lonely, because who we really are is not at all known or seen.
So, how do we become seen again? There are several ideas that cripple authenticity and cut our individuality off at the knees. These are certainly not the only ones, but quite effective at keeping us small and silent nonetheless.
Society knows best.
This is the idea that because the collective has spoken, it must be true. Nothing could be further from the truth. The collective of Nazi Germany also spoke, did they not? It would not have been possible for the Holocaust to happen, had the collective of German citizens in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s not decided that Jews were subhuman. It was this dehumanization that made the extermination of over 6,000,000 human beings a reality.
Following society is the ultimate exercise in abandoning our personal responsibility. It requires surrendering our allegiance to our own inner moral compass, and ultimately, we do so to belong. But, again, in this scenario, we do not belong because of who we actually are, but because of the concessions we are willing to make to belong. So we sacrifice ourselves and still do not belong. The only person to whom you can belong is you. That is authenticity in action.
I need to have a formal education to have something worth sharing.
This one gets my hackles up every time, and is a component of “society knows best.” Knowledge is owning information. Wisdom is effectively implementing that knowledge into our experience. Formal education does not create wisdom. In fact, just look around, it has done the exact opposite. Look at our medical system. Hippocrates, author of the Hippocratic Oath, said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” However, only 40% of our schools require the 25 hours of nutritional training recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. Doctors don’t know how to treat disease anymore, they just push pills to mask the symptoms. Even the Cleveland Clinic acknowledges that lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and mood are the root cause of chronic illness. But formal education keeps pumping out doctors who have no idea how to effect change in lifestyle choices, which is the root problem of our ailing population.
You do not need a formal education to be successful, or to have a message to share. Those who have paid for a formal education may insist you do, but that doesn’t mean you do. That piece of paper, which costs dozens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars, simply no longer equals success in today’s world. Period. Your message is valuable even if you haven’t finished high school.
Being popular will make me happy.
If my name is on the lips of enough people, I have arrived. This one certainly haunted me throughout my lackluster social showing in school. The real issue is: what is being said after your name? Take the Kardashians. Popular, right? But most of the comments I see on this family would make Sam Kinison blush. If you’re under 30, I’ll give you a second to Google that reference. We love to destroy the same people we make popular. Have you noticed that trend? It’s all part and parcel of the same thing. Those who are popular need those who aren’t to exist, and visa-versa. If everyone were popular, there would be no such thing as popularity. Likewise, if everyone were outcasts, there would be no popularity. Both are required. And the great love of all outcasts is to watch those who are popular return home to the wasteland of those who aren’t. Isn’t this why most of us attend, or avoid, high school reunions?
This is the thing, none of this is belonging. This is a competition to see who will conform first. This is also the heartbeat of fashion… I conformed before you. I have the outfit everyone else is wearing first. It’s still conforming, no matter how fast you do it, and it’s still ultimately an empty prize because it isn’t you. You are the prize. Being happy with who you are, what you say, how you act… that’s the prize. That’s how we get to look ourselves in the eye and be proud. And there is no feeling like it in the world.
Having money means I’m important.
How many of us hold this one close to our hearts? Wealth equals importance has allowed some of the most monstrously uninspired people to join the ranks of society’s movers and shakers. Money is just a placeholder for wealth. It is not wealth. It is paper. And everyone’s definition of wealth is different. But because we have allowed money to sit in the place of wealth, which, again, it isn’t, it has become associated with the stuff of all of our hopes and dreams. Meanwhile, our actual hopes and dreams fall to the wayside. But above and beyond this, as many lottery winners can attest to, money is often more of a curse than a blessing. We all love a good story about a wealthy socialite who loses everything and has to succumb to being a normal everyday person again, but honestly, this a real life fear for the wealthy. Because their money has become synonymous with their worth, losing it, just the thought of losing it, can be crushing. The very thing that supposedly makes them worthwhile then becomes their oppressor. No social group is more cold than the wealthy to one who has lost their wealth.
Money or no money, wealth or no wealth, you are still of value. Value cannot be defined by a temporary, fleeting item like wealth. It comes and goes. The pursuit of it can harden a life to stone. Your value is your presence, your unique perspective, your energetic signature, and the message you carry within. These things cannot be taken from you like wealth, only you can surrender them, and even then, not permanently. Re-calibrating your sense of value to those things that are intrinsically you will greatly change the way you view yourself and money. You are priceless!!
The larger my following, the more valuable my message is.
This is a belief system that tragically robs the world of countless life-changing ideas, messages, books, inventions, songs, poems, movies and blogs. So many terrifically gifted people never pursue their dreams because they believe the value of their dream is either validated or invalidated by the number of people who agree with them. This also directly links back to “society knows best” and as we previously discussed, there are many times in history when society, indeed, did not know what was best or right. Society knew how to follow its own tail and not much more. Do you really want the same people eating tide pods to be the ones who give your gift an A+ rating? Numbers do not equal value.
Quality over quantity. Everybody has their own “tribe” with whom their gifts will reverberate like a gong. That tribe will be drawn to what is offered and flutter about it like a moth to a flame. Rarely, if ever, will that tribe be the whole of society.
We are too diverse a species. However, those within the tribe will certainly feel like a whole world unto itself when we immerse our creative talents into their open arms. In a room full of people who adore us, for whatever reason, many of us will spend a large portion of our time focusing on the few who don’t. They are not your tribe. Learn to look for the love. I whole-heartedly assure you it is there. You are loved. Your gifts are loved. You are just trying to give them to the wrong people.
Why authenticity matters.
You are unique. That is a wholly overused cliche, but true nonetheless. NO ONE will ever have your past, your experience, your emotional make-up, your mind, your values, your beliefs, your talents and your dreams again in life. No one ever has before. It’s just you. You literally are as unique as your fingerprints.
Choosing to hide the light of that uniqueness under the bushel of societal expectations is a tragedy. So you look different. Own that difference and wrap it around you like a feather boa. So you have different ideas than most people. Guess what, so did Tesla, Einstein, Galileo and Thoreau. They are household names precisely because of those differences. So you don’t have the same personal values as you see on TV and in the movies. Honestly child, thank God! But seriously, your values are your compass and yours alone. Sometimes, especially in today’s world, off the beaten path is the most inspirational place you can be.
My point is this: you are good enough. You are loved. You are envied and idolized by people of whom you have no idea. It’s all relative and being inauthentic is relatively insane. Just be you. Breathe. Live. Become.