I read two articles today about being “authentic.” The author of one article, a psychologist, said people misunderstand what it means to be authentic. She believes we begin life as a blank slate and create, or author, ourselves. She bolsters her argument that we create ourselves by referencing the fact that the words author and authentic share the root word “auth,” which means “to authorize.” If I’m following the author’s logic, we can, if we choose, author ourselves, because we are blank slates.
I don’t agree with that starting point. Anyone who’s been around infants knows they’re born with likes and dislikes and they’re very ready to let everyone around them know what’s what.
The second article focused on how difficult and scary it is for us to be our authentic selves. The author of this article said we are afraid to let people see our true selves, because it’s not safe to share the truth about our struggles and challenges. We’re afraid we’ll be scorned and ridiculed if we show our vulnerabilities — how we’re real.
That got me to thinking, and what I remembered was the Velveteen Rabbit. In this children’s story, the rabbit wants nothing more than to become real, but the only way he can be real is if the boy loves him. How to be real was as much of a conundrum for the Velveteen Rabbit as it is for us. Being real is scary.
Over time, the boy does come to love the rabbit and because the boy loves him, the Velveteen Rabbit changes into a real rabbit. He then leaves the boy, joins the other rabbits in the forest, and lives like a real rabbit.
How can we be ourselves? Walt Whitman offers some insight.
You shall no longer take things at second of third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the specters in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me;
You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.
Do we, like the Velveteen Rabbit, need to be loved to be real? I think being loved helps.