Authenticity as defined in the Webster’s dictionary reads as follows:
a : worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact paints an authentic picture of our society
b : conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features an authentic reproduction of a colonial farmhouse
c : made or done the same way as an original authentic Mexican fare
d : not false or imitation : real, actual an authentic cockney accent
e : true to one's own personality, spirit, or character is sincere and authentic with no pretensions.
We live in a time of hyper narcissism. How odd that just a few decades ago the spirit of the age was so very different, no better, no worse, but very different. When my grandparents came of age the spirit of the age was conformity and one was part of a collective. It was the tail end of the era when persons were located according to their station in life, there was an almost divine sense of being relegated to a class, a job, you were defined by larger forces, your ethnicity, your income, your gender, etc… I am so thankful that I and those born after me have broken free from this cast, that we are now free to be so much more than what others may expect from us. When my mother met her guidance teacher in high school she was told that she could be a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. My daughter has opportunities and horizons unimaginable to my mother.
When I was in school the focus was on my individuality, how I could be anything I wanted to be, the sky was the limit. Moreover the moral layer had changed too, no more were humans tainted by sin and shamed by heavy doses of humility, my generation and those who came later were told we were good, great even. It was even more than “I’m OK, you’re OK”, it was “I’m great, you’re great.” I am not sure if back then parents and teachers worried they were creating little emperors, but they were. Ask any teacher about the lengthy conversation with a parent who with utter seriousness would tell you her/his child was the smartest, most creative, most wonderful being ever born to the human species. Giving such genius a B or less than a 100 as a grade was such a slap in the face that a teacher would be judged unworthy to ever instruct their offspring again. And that’s not to mention the “gifted” child where the parent would pay large sums to a private school so their highly advanced daughter/son would finally be challenged in a way fitting of their capability.
But isn’t need here to be authentic to who we are, not trying to fit every human into a cookie cutter conformity or assuming every child is a Mozart or an Einstein or a Gates? Isn’t the point of teaching and mentoring to match the passion to the student, to connect the gift of leaning to the student who is eager to learn this vocation? At the end of the day isn’t the highest compliment about a person to say s/he was authentically thus or so, to say that he was compassionate or she was funny or she was a risk taker or she was strong, or some combination or these virtues? Why do humans have to be either jammed in a box due to their birth or gender or class or on the other hand lifted up as perfect and precious in every way? Aren’t we all precious and sinners, gifted and flawed, special and common, interesting and predictable? Why is it so hard to admit these realities about ourselves as human, to give ourselves permission to be saints and sinners? At the end of the day I believe the highest form of praise to be said about us in death is that we were authentically human in life.