aNewDomain — I am a psychologist and an existentialist, so people ask me some pretty out-there questions. Like: Is it true that women think more relationally than men? The answer: Well, maybe. On average.
And they want to know if they are authentic. How do you know if you are authentic? It isn’t quite the right question.
One thing you should know about us existentialists, we like to keep it real. In other words, authentic. We say you should mean what you say and say what you mean. And we mean what we say when we say that. You know if you’re authentic if your thoughts, intentions, feelings, values and actions all align. Then, yes, you are authentic.
Trouble is, some people aren’t authentic. They’re just authentic ass hats. There’s a difference.
I mean, check out this guy, below. He was pretty authentic.
And the guys in the shot below right were pretty authentic, too.
But Hitler and the Klan were mostly ass hats. And they were authentically ass hats. So let’s look deeper.
Maybe the answer as to whether you are authentic involves more than just you.
It was the family-focused psychologist Virginia Satir (pictured, below left) who first advocated for an authenticity that included more than just the individual person.
If anything, the currently popular brand of psychology — it’s called humanistic psychology — is rightfully criticized for being way too much about the individual.
It’s too selfish.
That’s what all psychology is about, after all: the variations that take place inside the human, within the parameters of his or her skin, that account for his or her human behavior. Period. Typically, psychologists leave it up to sociology or social psychologists to address the relevant social issues a human is having.
Satir, though, was a family therapist. As her scope was a collection of humans, naturally her frame of reference for authenticity had to end somewhere beyond the nose and fingertips of the individual.
Her theory of authenticity is more properly called congruence.
So now I’ll ask you: Are you congruent? Are you authentic? Or are you just another authentic ass hat? And what should you be?
What’s the difference between an authentic person and a congruent person?
The congruent person has all that stuff that the authentic one has, plus: A congruent human’s actions, unlike Hitler, the Klan and other authentic but malevolent humans you can think of, are respectful towards others. They are appropriate to the environment.
Say you’re a nudist and you hate clothes and the idea of clothes. When you show up naked to your nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, you’re being totally authentic. But you are being totally incongruent.
In this case, your actions would be disrespectful and not at all appropriate to the setting.”
Now, we tend to think every gay person should come out. That’s not always true.
It might be authentic to do so, and it might also be congruent – but it might not be. Particularly when doing so presents a danger to the person, we have to consider if there are ways to be authentic beyond simple, total honesty. We do the best we can with what we have.
There’s something to be said for authenticity.
Were we happier in the 1950s? It was a worse time for women and minorities, for sure. But I’ve heard more than once this week that, you know, in the 1950s, at least you knew who hated you.”
These clowns at right – uh, these guys at right – are being totally authentic. But only up to the point of showing you their faces. Because it has become inappropriate again to hate people of color, the hoods have started to come back out.
I seem to recall predicting that somewhere along the line.
Klansmen are being neither authentic nor congruent. They are not owning their real feelings, and they are not being respectful of the public space nor of the feelings of others around them.
Music is a weird place to end this discussion, but …
Back in the 1960s, a lot of the bands you remember as being nothing at all like The Beach Boys were actually just like The Beach Boys.
Listen to some early The Who, or earlier Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Listen closely.
In the sunny, poppy riffs, among the easy harmonies and optimistic beats, you can hear some really counter-culture lyrics.
We like to think Pink Floyd evolved through the 1970s and 1980s to reflect a dystopian vision, born of Roger Waters and his conflicts with the rest of them.
But the truth is that the somber, blues-inspired music of Pink Floyd was always there – it was just congruent with the times and grew more authentic, then it became congruent again as society caught up.
And the heavy, distorted, guitar-smashing sound of The Who?
It was also always present, just hidden behind a polite shield of bowl cuts and major keys.
So are you authentic or are you congruent? And which should you be?
Fair warning: Congruence is not always all it’s cracked up to be.
Sometimes we have to riot, set some shit on fire, hold up traffic. Sometimes.
Sometimes we need to get into some peoples’ faces and be a little more real than congruence always allows.
Crossing that bridge, the Pettus Bridge, is not necessarily appropriate to all times and and places. But it is necessary.
It is endlessly necessary.
Martin Luther King, Jr., for instance, was a real leader. He was one who could bridge that gap between irreverence and disrespect: to behave in incongruent ways that were necessary and loving.
Satir would have understood. I don’t have access to any of her opinions on the civil rights marchers, but I’d like to think she’d have approved wholeheartedly of choosing love.
Sometimes the choice isn’t between authenticity and inauthenticity, or authenticity and congruence.
Sometimes we have to choose to let go of our hatreds. Choose love, and enact that feeling and that action authentically.
And another thing: Please don’t be an ass hat.
Image one: TeachEngineering.org, All Rights Reserved; image two: Disney.Wikia.Com, All Rights Reserved; image three: ThoughtsOnThingsAndStuff.com, All Rights Reserved; image four: Awaken.com, All Rights Reserved; image five: Haaretz.com, All Rights Reserved; image six: Dougkyed.Tumblr.com, All Rights Reserved.
Cover image: Blog.MelSchwartz.com, All Rights Reserved.