Monday, March 4, 2013

silence, slander, and authenticity

Authenticity can be considered a fairly neutral thing.  And it is not new to value it.  Shakespeare, mockingly, puts the proverbial words of advice, "to thine own self be true" in the mouth of Polonius.  However, it seems that now authenticity has been elevated in status, reaching levels paramount to truth in our vocabulary.

This may not be surprising, given the beating truth has taken lately, but I would suggest that our preoccupation with authenticity is reflective of an obsession with self, particularly self-image.  We must consider how important it really is that others view us rightly, that they know our "authentic" selves.

Monastic Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) writes:
A wise man remains silent when beset by evil; he turns to Me in his heart, and is untroubled by man's judgements.  Do not let your peace depend on what people say of you, for whether they speak good or ill of you makes no difference to what you are. (Bk 3, Ch 28)
This goes against the grain of our culture, does it not?  We who are so concerned with the right -or at least positive- impressions of others could hardly be content to remain silent while others slander us.  For while slander may sometimes be true about someone, often it is false.  All our efforts to present an authentic self-image crumble when we are falsely accused and do nothing to revoke it.

Our valuing of an authentic image can lead us to forget that we are not our image, however true it might be.  We are only ever truly ourselves before God; this is the foundation from which à Kempis speaks.  Perhaps this is the only type of authenticity that matters.

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