Authenticity and the Supply Chain

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Most of our lives are mediated by the unwritten rules of social convention. Our fashion, interests, language and ambitions are all in some way shaped by our desire to conform with the group. This deep-seated longing of course finds its roots in our evolutionary history. Previously living in nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes, being in good standing with the tribe was often a necessity of survival.  

This desire for social acceptance comes at a cost however. We become alienated from our authentic selves and become afraid of being open, honest and vulnerable. Many of us fear embracing our inner nature, and instead senselessly adhere to the conventions and path set out by society. This may perhaps bring us short-term pleasure as we attain social standing and status, but this strategy will eventually lead us to existential angst as the façade begins to unravel.

The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask.

Jim Morrison
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As our realities our becomes increasingly shaped by the fictions glowing at us from our screens, we develop an unrealistic idea of what it means to be ‘normal.’ Social norms inform that we have to check off certain boxes and achieve certain milestones before we can feel justified in having a sense of accomplishment.  This pressure to conform to certain ideas is compounded by social media, advertisements and marketing try to shape our desires and sell us a certain lifestyle.

Pick up any newspaper or magazine, open the TV, and you’ll be bombarded with suggestions of how to have a successful life. Some of these suggestions are deeply unhelpful to our own projects and priorities – and we should take care.  

Alain De Botton

There is nothing inherently wrong with adhering to the expectations placed on you by society. I think it is important rather to be self-aware and cognizant of the underlying motives and rationale behind these decisions. Through critical self-examination we can get to know our selves a bit better in order to understand if we are truly acting and living authentically.

However, we must exercise caution and self-awareness in order to distinguish fact from fiction. Through marketing, advertisements and self-help gurus, modern society is fixated on the notion that we ought to be authentic, think different and ‘be our-selves.’ The risks we face in identifying with these ideas and brands is that they are attempts by advertisers to sell us a product (perhaps a new MacBook or a new pair of Nike sneakers) and have an influence on who we are.  

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This begs the question, what exactly is authenticity, and how can we live lives that are more attune to our inner desires, feelings and emotions. One way to do so is to acknowledge our vulnerability, and to come to terms with the fragility and flaws of the human condition.

Rather than hide from our mistakes or our strange idiosyncrasies, we can accept them. This is what makes us unique after all, and enables us to share our distinct perspectives about how we make sense of the world.    

No matter what your work, let it be your own. No matter what your occupation, let what you are doing be organic. Let it be in your bones. In this way, you will open the door by which the affluence of heaven and earth shall stream into you.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Due to digitization, interconnectedness and polarization of society, it can sometimes be more difficult to be authentic, truthful and vulnerable. In our social media driven world in which we express ideas in 140 characters or less, we can often be misunderstood or misinterpreted.  This incentivizes us to ensure that we are on the right side of what society deems to be ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable.’ [1]

Respectful and open dialogue is not only necessary for building social trust, but is also imperative for allowing us to discover and unveil our authentic selves.

What can be done to restore the open and honest dialogue needed to cultivate a greater sense of understanding, community and authenticity? I’ll explore this in another article but if you have any thoughts let me know in the comments.


[1] If you want to dive deeper on how mass media shapes and maintains conformity I highly recommend looking into Jordan Hall’s article Understanding the Blue Church

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