As the saying goes, “Any virtue taken to its extreme becomes a vice“, and this most certainly applies to the virtue of authenticity.
To be sure: we should all be authentic.
Here’s how authentic is basically defined: “(5) true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” This is what most people think of when referring to personal authenticity. But this is a conveniently vague definition with a broad range of implications.
Authenticity necessitates a deeper conceptual understanding when applied as a virtue. It also needs a balancing virtue to anchor it, and that virtue is adaptivity.
Being naked in public could be considered very authentic. Defecating whenever and wherever one wants could also be considered very authentic. And so forth.
The point is it’s very easy to misinterpret and take advantage of authenticity. Loose personal definitions of what it means to be “authentic” can manifest as crippling excuses for cursory behavior.
Here’s an expanded conceptual definition of authenticity as a virtue:
• Being true to one’s core values
• Actively engaging self-awareness, including accurately acknowledging stable personality and behavioral traits
• Intending to act (and actually acting) in a manner that’s consistent with core personal goals
• Genuinely attemtping to harmonize one’s core feelings and beliefs with truths of the world
Unbridled and unchecked authenticity, or even simple misunderstanding, can lead to perilous self-indulgence, disregard of others, and potentially serious consequences. So let’s examine what authenticity looks like as it’s commonly misapplied.
Common misapplications of authenticity:
• Doing whatever you want, whenever you want
• Avoiding duties or responsibilities
• Speaking with no discretion (saying whatever’s on your mind)
• Violating or disrespecting others or environments
These types of self-gratifying behaviors are not justified with a claim of authenticity, and if you would argue otherwise, you’re probably missing the point of employing authenticity as a virtue.
The underlying danger here is the perpetuation of ego. The ego should not be considered authentic. The ego clings to defenses of its own idealized image and supports self-indulgence and self-gratification at all times. Unfortunately, authenticity can be hijacked and misrepresented by the ego, and when this happens it causes people to become maladaptive, or at least self-centered, and possibly delusional.
The ego doesn’t want to adapt – the ego wants everyone and everything to adapt to it.
In addition to engaging genuine authenticity, it’s also important to employ adaptivity as a virtue. Being virtuously adaptive involves intending to be equanimous while accepting aspects of the world we cannot change, and accommodating these unchangeable forces for the purpose of symbiosis. It also involves accepting that self-change is inevitable and necessary for improving one’s circumstances.
Adaptivity serves to necessarily moderate any forced or misguided expressions of authenticity; it must be implemented in order to learn, to grow, and to promote harmony among self and others.
It’s important to be very clear about our own authenticity and not abuse it, misuse it, or mistake it for ego. Once we’re fully self-aware and being genuinely authentic, we must make sure to temper any indulgent and selfish tendencies by also being genuinely adaptive.
Be yourself. Be genuinely authentic and adaptive.