“A human being becomes whole not in virtue of a relation [only] to himself but rather in virtue of an authentic relation to another human being”
One of the significant benefits of making a commitment to living more authentically, is the opportunity we give ourselves and others we encounter to engage in genuine relationship. Personal authenticity can have a revelatory and revolutionary effect upon our relationships with others, inviting the other to meet us genuinely, and creating conditions that can prompt others to retreat out of our sphere altogether if truth and authenticity are what they resist in themselves. Either way, the benefit of separating the wheat from the chaff in relationship terms is in bringing a richness, truth and deep satisfaction to our relating and those willing to stand beside us as we actually are, rather than who we pretend to be.
“I am alone in the midst of these happy, reasonable voices. All these creatures spend their time explaining, realising happily that they agree with each other. In Heaven’s name, why is it so important to think the same things all together. ”
Whilst Jean-Paul Sartre makes the declaration ‘hell is other people’ within what Sartre considered to be a meaningless universe, Martin Buber’s I-Thou thesis posits an authentic way of relating that entails our shifting our orientation from treating others as objects that exist to serve our interests, to an openness to the other as an expression of mystery. This shift invites us to relate to others by resisting our temptation to reduce the other to the status on an object via labels, definitions and concepts and instead invites us to be open to who the other is as a multi-dimensional being who emerges over time. The other can be other people and other living beings such as animals and even plants. The resulting mindset releases us from the habit of self-referential, self-serving relating, opening us to an intrinsically meaningful and spiritual dimension of Being as life unfolds before us within a very short span of existence.
On a pragmatic level, a commitment to personal authenticity necessarily entails a valuing of ourselves and the other by, for example, respecting both self and other enough to share the truth as we experience it, rather than continuing to engage in the pretence, routine, loneliness or falseness that defines many contemporary relationships. As such, the decision to relate to others in authenticity is a decision to value the liberating nature of truth as an affirmation of Being: my being and the being of the other. In doing so I say to myself ‘I have a right to reveal my truth and value myself enough to do so’ and ‘I respect and value you enough as a friend, partner, or other human being to tell you the truth of how I experience you’. It is lies that devalue and disrespect others, not the truth.
Personal authenticity doesn’t of course guarantee comfort, convenience or successful relsationships. Indeed, authentic relationships necessarily go through the storm and turbulence that honest expression entails, making or breaking bonds between people and testing the value of what we say against what we actually do. It forms the basis of a cultural and lifestyle change for its proponents whereby those with the courage and personal integrity to hold fast to the path can find that their relationship with self and other become stronger, better, clearer and more fulfilling, simply in telling it like it is. Trust and respect are built and true happiness becomes a real possibility rather than the shallow appearance of happiness we obtain in the ‘marriage of convenience’ style of relating all-too often seen in our increasingly technocratic, narcissistic, materialistic world.
One of the longest studies of the question of what makes human beings happy defies the popular Western mythology that money, material possessions and fame bring us happiness. The study revealed instead that it is good relationships that bring us the most happiness and longevity. Good relationships allow us to be who we are, providing those involved the chance to grow and develop together as human beings rather than occupying the pantomime roles of pretence that so often pass for friendship or partnership: what Sartre refers to as acting in ‘bad faith’. Sartre’s famous example of bad faith – a waiter he observes in a cafe – behaves according to the role of a waiter; a stereotype he adopts as a performance that masks his true nature as a man. This as contrasted with a person being who he or she actually is whilst carrying out the duties required of his job as a waiter. In the latter, the role is subservient to Being, not the other way round.
Existential Analysis with a psychotherapist commited to personal authenticity can be a life-changing process, exposing us to the courage and discreet skill set required of mature, responsible relationship, and the clarity and focus of honest ways of being with ourselves and others. Sessions focussed on developing personal authenticity provide us with an opportunity to experiment with and grow accustomed to affirmation at a deeper level than ordinary social interaction or private reflection. In the authentic relationship it becomes possible to see ourselves and to be seen as we truly are via genuine connection, as we gradually learn to shed the facades, defences and roles routinely adopted in the social games we play for convenience, comfort and approval.
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