Saturday, June 11, 2016

Against Authenticity

Adam Grant recalls that when he was anguishing over what to say in his first talk at the TED conference, seven different people advised him to "just be yourself."

He ended up giving his speech on why this is terrible advice.
We are in the Age of Authenticity, where “be yourself” is the defining advice in life, love and career. Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world. As Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, defines it, authenticity is “the choice to let our true selves be seen.” . . .

But for most people, “be yourself” is actually terrible advice.

If I can be authentic for a moment: Nobody wants to see your true self. We all have thoughts and feelings that we believe are fundamental to our lives, but that are better left unspoken.

A decade ago, the author A. J. Jacobs spent a few weeks trying to be totally authentic. He announced to an editor that he would try to sleep with her if he were single and informed his nanny that he would like to go on a date with her if his wife left him. He informed a friend’s 5-year-old daughter that the beetle in her hands was not napping but dead. He told his in-laws that their conversation was boring. You can imagine how his experiment worked out.

“Deceit makes our world go round,” he concluded. “Without lies, marriages would crumble, workers would be fired, egos would be shattered, governments would collapse.”
Grant advocates for another, much older piece of advice on how to live:
If not our authentic selves, what should we be striving to reach? Decades ago, the literary critic Lionel Trilling gave us an answer that sounds very old-fashioned to our authentic ears: sincerity. Instead of searching for our inner selves and then making a concerted effort to express them, Trilling urged us to start with our outer selves. Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be.

Rather than changing from the inside out, you bring the outside in.
I, of course, am a moderate on this as on most things; I think the right recipe for living is to find a compromise between what you feel and what the world around you expects. Too much authenticity makes you an insufferable jerk; too much accommodation to the world makes you a milquetoast bore. The most important requirement is neither authenticity nor accommodation, but judgment as to which is required in any given situation.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Who signs up for a TED talk without having something to talk about? Why would you do that? Is this why so many TED talks are utter trash? They're just the first things these unprepared idiots think of that they can get away with wasting ten minutes blathering about?

Seriously, this guy's big talk is that "authenticity" is bad, but "sincerity" is good? Give me a break! They're the same thing! This chump is splitting hairs and purposefully treating two incredibly close synonyms as wildly different things just to fill time and sound sagacious. All because he signed up to give a talk and didn't have anything prepared.

This is called "bullshitting", and it's what I used to do as a lazy teenager in middle and high school when I had a paper due, didn't do an ounce of work on it, and then wrote it all in ten minutes on the morning it was due. It was a waste of everyone's time and insulting to boot, and I and everyone else knew it - but at least I wasn't going out of my way to give it as a TED talk.

Heck, this moron could have at least switched around his adjectives! He got them completely backwards! Sincerity is the quality of being free from deceit, not authenticity! Deceit can be authentic - just look at any good actor. But it absolutely cannot be sincere. Meanwhile, striving to be the person you wish you were isn't sincerity, it's attempting to become authentic.

Talk about your complete nonsense! This guy and his fellows are a total disgrace, and the people at TED need to seriously rethink their vetting process and institute some quality control - the phrase "TED talk" is rapidly becoming a joke.