What is authenticity?
We are, in Sartre’s words, “condemned to be free”. In his essay/lecture “Existentialism is a Humanism,”
a) In choosing myself, I choose who I am;
b) In choosing myself, I choose a certain type of human being in the presence of others;
c) In choosing myself, I project a certain image of what it means to be human;
d) Therefore, in choosing myself, I choose man.
Sartre is suggesting that we go beyond purely subjective and personal concerns and try to take some responsibility for others when he speaks of “choosing man.” At best, at highest, he is really saying “In choosing myself, I construct universality.” So, no, though we are free, we must respect the freedom of others. Thus, not everything is permitted. Ethics binds us. After all, we are social creatures in community with one another.
In sum, what I term a “life of value” has two parts: one is about fulfilling yourself and finding meaning by prioritizing, or “living” the values that you authentically possess. When your life is consistent with what you truly value, then your life just “feels right.” Beyond fulfilling yourself and valuing your life, when you live a life of value, you make positive differences to those around you – be it your family, your community, your country, or our world. It is as though, objectively, your life is “valuable” to someone or something beyond yourself – that the Earth breathes easier with you here. Hence, you derive a subjective sense of value from your life because you are living your values, but further, your life has some objective value beyond how you feel. This is really advanced authenticity.
Here are a few quotes about authenticity, self-definition, becoming, and maturity that grab my attention:
“It requires philosophy and heroism to rise above the opinion of the wise men of all nations and races.” ~ Elizabeth Cady Stanton
“In making our choices, we need to respect the freedom of others. I am obliged to will the freedom of others at the same time as I will my own. I cannot set my own freedom as a goal without also setting the freedom of others as a goal.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre
“As we proceed in the act of creation, the litmus test is always about authenticity. Is this your voice, your soul, your story coming through this piece? The idea of seed you’re cultivating has surfaced for a purpose and awaits the originality only you can bring to it.” ~ Jan Phillips & Ruth Westreich
“Dare to be yourself.” ~ Andre Gide
“Remember always that you have not only the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
“Man is never so authentically himself as when at play.” ~ Friedrich Schiller
“There are many who are living far below their possibilities because they are continually handing over their individualities to other. Do you want to be a power in the world? Then be yourself. Be true to the highest within your soul, and then allow yourself to be governed by no customs or conventionalities or arbitrary man-made rules that are not founded on principle.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Social situations do profoundly influence individuals. But individuals also influence social situations. The two interact. Asking whether external situations or inner dispositions determine behavior is like asking whether length or width determine a room’s area.” ~ David G. Meyers and Jean M. Twenge
“to be yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop.” ~ e. e. cummings
“When ‘the common good’ of a society is regarded as something apart from and superior to the individual good of its members, it means that the good of some men takes precedence over the good of others, with those others consigned to the status of sacrificial animals.” ~ Ayn Rand
“Be yourself. Who is better qualified?” ~ Frank J. Giblin II
“When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.” ~ Anais Nin
“Often we want to try and retain our self, to be confident and courageous. Wisdom is required to determine when is the right time – or it’s not confidence, but dogmatism. It is wise to be yourself – but with the realization that your self needs continual improvement. We simply never arrive at perfection – or at least we don’t linger there long. And the less you try to cling to that, the more face-saving it is when you discover the need to change.” ~ Jason Merchey
“To truly serve, purpose must be connected to our unique authenticity. That is why money cannot serve as our purpose. It can be a goal, but not a purpose.” ~ Lenedra J. Carroll
“There’s an interesting parallel, I think, between the way Faust ends, and Fichte’s view that in the selfless life – in ‘de-individuating’ ourselves, in giving up the merely personal, private exercise of freedom, and externalizing all of the possibilities of freedom for the benefit of the many – we end up at once with a life that is thoroughly authentic.” ~ Daniel N. Robinson
“Of course, most of us do not believe that we can be happy no matter what the external circumstance. When confronted with the idea that happiness is ultimately in the mind, many of us immediately entertain extreme examples that falsify the theory: could we be happy even if we break a bone or lose our job? To me, those are the wrong questions to ask. The right question to ask is whether we can be happy given the types of negative events that routinely occur in our lives.” ~ Raj Raghunathan
And, two challenging ones:
“The great danger that America faces is that we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups: city against suburb, region against region, individual against individual. Each seeking to satisfy private wants. If that happens, who will then speak for America? Who will look out for the common good?” ~ Barbara Jordan
“By narcissism is meant ceasing to have an authentic interest in the outside world but instead an intense attachment to oneself, to one’s own group, clan, religion, nation, race, etc. – with consequent serious distortions of rational judgment.” ~ Erich Fromm
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