What does it mean to be “authentic” anyway?

I had a wonderful book launch on October 1, with a brilliant conversation partner, Dan Heischman, Executive Director, National Association of Episcopal Schools! Thank you to those who came out, who listened, and who asked such powerful and generative questions. It has been a flurry since then with interviews about the book from as far away as Jamaica to some speaking engagements at schools across the nation. I am honored and thrilled to share the DIGNITY lens with as many people as possible across all sorts of platforms and different communities. Almost without exception, one of the primary questions I get is about this idea of being authentic: what does it mean anyway?

When I watch the news, all I see is citizen fighting against citizen. When I watch the news, all I see are two candidates from opposing parties trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?

Brecklyn Brown

Perhaps the most significant question from our recent VP presidential debate, was from the 8th grader who essentially was asking about the lack of authenticity she is seeing. We just have to look around to see and to feel that things are out of alignment. Food insecurity on the rise in the wealthiest country. Access to healthcare questionable in the midst of a pandemic. And the list of misalignments go on. We don’t feel assured of who is real, of what is authentic. We are searching for more alignment, for authenticity in our leaders, in our communities, our organizations and institutions. We are yearning for trust and integrity and transparency. We are even questioning on our identity as a nation. Have we lost sight of who we are? Or, are we living into the values we say we espouse? And we may even be questioning who we are as individuals. Our identities. What we hope for. Our own sense of authenticity.

Integrity is the backbone of authenticity. It is our measuring stick, our barometer…Integrity in DIGNITY is an accurate diagnostic. As we take up agency in innovating or experimenting, we need to pause and take an imaginary flight to hover over our community and conduct an integrity audit.

Beth-Sarah Wright, From DIGNITY

So what is authenticity? It is when we can answer “Yes” unequivocally to the questions: are we doing what we say we are we doing? Are our actions aligned with our identity, our purpose, our values? If we are not able to say ‘yes’ fully then that is an indication that our authenticity quotient needs some serious attention. We can certainly have aspirations and ideal notions of what or who we want to be. But if we do not take the necessary actions to reflect those ideals, then we have a gap and it is in this gap that I am most invested. Herein lies the opportunity for authenticity. This type of audit is not meant to reveal failure. Rather it helps to create a reliable pathway for our work, revealing blind spots, unused opportunities, potential minefields and holds us accountable to the values we profess.

Consider the authenticity of your community right now. This is not a moral or a religious or a political imperative. Perhaps we need a new imperative. One that is rooted in our own agency and in the power of our vast potential to bring about alignment for the good of humanity. Let us take up this important work together and create a community that makes sense to Brecklyn and to many others who are blinded and confused by our misaligned state. How about a dose of authenticity?