The word “authenticity” and all its variations are overused.
Everyone wants to be authentic, and the word is used often in the self-improvement world, perhaps too often.
It’s an overused word, and I’m not going to use it now.
Instead, I’m going to use a related concept, “sincere.”
The words have a similar meaning. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “authentic” means “being what it claims to be; genuine.”
“Sincere” means “honest; not false or invented.”
They mean the same, and I prefer to use “sincere.”
“Sincerity” and social media don’t belong together. They are different animals.
We all know this on a visceral level. Social media has been a part of our lives for more than a decade and, while we recognize the benefits it provides through the connections it forges, it is also very easy to see its drawbacks, and they are many.
We all know that it’s often used to paint an idealized portrait of users’ lives, while glossing over the not so great or forgettable parts.
It can be thought of as the press release version of real life. A press release is, after all, a form of propaganda where an organization presents its best face and tries to control the narrative. Any organization that issues press releases does so with the hopes that the narrative it writes will be the story that makes it into the newspapers.
Good reporters will dig deeper beneath the surface level of the press release to find what’s missing. Press releases serve a purpose, and that’s to paint an idealized portrait desired by the issuer while ignoring anything that can appear to be negative.
There’s nothing better for a communications professional than to see their press releases printed verbatim in a news outlet. It means they have won, and the narrative they pitched has become the accepted truth, whether it’s the whole truth or not.
Danger always exists when a company starts to completely believe its own press releases. At that point any remaining sincerity is gone.
I’m guilty as charged in having using social media to present the parts of my life I want to present to the world. It’s always fun to post about the good stuff – vacations, life accomplishments, date nights, and special occasions.
But for all of us, those feel good posts tell part of our story. After all, it’s uncomfortable to write about disappointments, failures, hurts, and other forms of vulnerabilities. It potentially paints us in a bad light and runs counter to the positive narrative – our own version of press releases – we’ve constructed around our lives.
I’ve decided I’m going to make efforts to attack this problem head on and act with greater sincerity on social media. I will show my defeats as well as my victories.
Patty and I have been together for 25 years, since I was 18 and she was 16 years old.
TLC’s “Waterfalls” was the Billboard Number 1 song, Kevin Costner’s disastrous Waterworld was flopping in theatres, and ER and Seinfeld were the top-rated television shows.
The years since then have been a veritable journey filled with many, many ups, and also many downs.
At times, we have hurt each other, disappointed each other, made each other angry, sad, and even despondent.
We all love to remember the good parts of our lives and try to bury the bad parts, but both the good and the bad are what make us, us.
Is it possible to expect anything different from flawed humans than to try to eliminate the bad while elevating the good? After all, we want to feel good about ourselves, and it’s a basic survival instinct.
Without the totality of our experiences we would exist as someone other than who we are right now. While we would still have our physical bodies, we would not be us.
The passage of time has taught both of us, I think, the value of being fully sincere with each other.
We have been discussing and trying to live a concept we are calling “Sincere Communication” for the past year.
What does this mean? Briefly, it means we talk… a lot.
We don’t try to hide behind any masks and strive to show our true selves to each other at all times, even when what we are revealing or discussing may not show us at our best or it may be ugly in some way.
It means we have no fear about sharing our darkest thoughts or feelings with each other, and we will not judge the other for being human. As with social media, it’s s always easy to share happy thoughts; but those that live in the shadows are much harder to reveal, even to the person who has been your partner for so long.
Far too often during the past 25 years, one or both of us held back parts of ourselves from the other due to fear and not wanting to rock the boat. This led directly to many bad times.
Holding back parts of ourselves doesn’t happen anymore.
If something is bothering me, or vice versa, the expectation is now that we will discuss it without judgment and without expressions of anger. We will accept it is part of the reality of the other person, and work through it if it something that needs to be worked through.
I hate using the word “safe space,” since it rightly has negative connotations, but I want to co-opt the concept for our form of Sincere Communication. Our home is, in fact, a safe space where we can and do live without fear in our communications with the other.
It is safe for us to be real with each other at all times, and about any topic.
Disagreements will happen. Whenever human beings come together there will always be disagreements, but Sincere Communication helps prevent those disagreements from morphing into smoldering conflagrations.
A good analogy, or at least the best I can come up with, is controlled burns in forest management. Such controlled burns are purposely set because they help keep forests healthy by providing many benefits, such as reducing flammable materials, recycling soil nutrients, and providing an opportunity for new vegetation to grow. These controlled burns are much better than unplanned forest fires that could quickly turn into out-of-control catastrophes, ultimately taxing resources to the breaking point and destroying the forest, all wildlife in it, and the surrounding areas.
If we had lived this way for the entirety of the past quarter century, we would have been able to prevent problems before they bubbled over the cauldron. We would have had greater intimacy because sharing everything with another person brings you close, exceedingly close.
We have full access to each other’s minds now. She knows me, and I know her, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s obviously not possible to go back in time and erase bad moments, but it is possible to create the life and relationship we want now by breaking negative patterns and living with Sincere Communication.
It is not easy at first, particularly when you are so accustomed to holding things in for fear of looking bad or ceding ground in an argument; but it is necessary. Just like a controlled burn of a forest might look scary and dangerous to an outsider, some conversations can appear to be fraught with danger initially due to fear.
We continue to live this journey every day.
Just as I made the decision to no longer present the sanitized version of life on social media, we jointly made the decision to no longer present to each other the sanitized version of ourselves.
Life is messy.
It doesn’t always go according to plan.
It includes inevitable pain, failure, and disappointment.
And, that’s ok.
Accept it, enjoy the ride, and live it with sincerity.