May 21, 2018

Authenticity and integrity

I’ve had a problem with the use of authentic when it comes to describing some sort of aspired behaviour or way of being, but hadn’t quite got around to pinning it down until this tweet from the estimable John Cutler, who if you don’t already follow should do.

First up - this is purely about my personal reaction to the use of authenticity and I’m well aware that I’m blundering into semantics and risking a whole pile of dictionary-splaining. That aside, when someone talks about a person being authentic, it comes with an unstated set of ideas about what they’re assessed against: when a type of food is described in terms of being authentic cuisine, it’s because it’s been prepared or made in a way that someone or some group have defined as canonical.

To be authentic, the subject needs to be evaluated in regard to something else. It’s specifically that measureing-up which I find uncomfortable. To be authentic someone has to meet someone else’s set of criteria for authenticity rather than find their own.

When I work with my teams and helping people grow in their roles, I’m far more interested in people finding out and reaching their own potential, and I actively avoid the trap of tainting this process with my own pre-determined ideas about what I think someone could or should be. Obviously I can talk about what I’ve observed in others and relate my experiences, but fundamentally I believe that it’s more important that people find a way of being and a way of doing that works for them in a positive, healthy way.

I’ve found that rather than talk about this in terms of authenticity, that the concept of integrity yields a more valuable discussion: how do you live in a way that is sustainable and enables you to continue to develop freely? For me, the concept of integrity doesn’t carry any sense of a stopping condition - something can grow forever as long as it doesn’t collapse (i.e. lose its integrity), whereas authentic implies that movement away from the bounds of what’s acceptable causes a loss of authenticity.

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