Authenticity is the Key to Peace, Happiness, and Well-Being

A friend asked if I would volunteer as a keynote speaker for a charity event. To make my life easier, he introduced me to his media expert who would manage all my slides, videos, and photographs. The media pro—I’ll call him Bunkie—was an amiable thirty-something-year old who cheerfully gave me his contact information. “Just send me your media,” he said, “and I’ll make visual magic.”

Visual magic sounded good, but when I was ready for his help and repeatedly emailed and telephoned  him, he would not respond. Not once, not ever.

What was I to think? If I were in a forgiving mood (which is not my nature), I might have reasoned that Bunkie’s dog ate his phone, or that he was abducted by aliens from the planet Zoloff. That’s possible I suppose, although I suspect the real answer was something more ordinary: that he was simply rude.

All that got me thinking about what makes a grounded, dependable human being. Upon reflection I decided Bunkie’s failings may suggest a misalignment between his ideal self (who he would like to be) and his real self (who he is).

There’s always a gap between our ideal and real selves. The greater the gap, the greater the internal tension. If the gap is wide, we may feel anxious or depressed. When the gap is closed, or nearly closed, we feel authentic. In fact, that’s the definition of authenticity: the capacity to meld our ideal and real selves into one integrated being.

No mortal is capable of being fully authentic all of the time, but the more narrow the gap, the more likely we become self-confident, socially refined, and spiritually centered.

But that begs the question: what should our ideal self look like? To answer that question, I’d like to use a metaphor: the proverbial iceberg.

Ninety percent of an iceberg’s volume is hidden below the water’s surface. Think of that huge mass as equivalent to our character (values 1-4 described below). That mass is the core of our being and the support system for our behavior. It has to be immense because it nourishes everything we think, feel, say, and do.

Only ten percent of an iceberg’s volume lies above the surface. This smaller mass—the facade seen by all—is equivalent to our personality, which includes personal achievements (values 5-8) and social graces (values 9-12). Although our personality is what the public perceives, it only works if the foundation of character is solidly stable.

So, what are these remarkable values I’m talking about? Each individual might word them differently, but I think the values I’ve listed below are universal guidelines.

The hidden foundational values of character below the surface

  1. Integrity is the essence of personal congruence. What you say and what you do are identical. You are dependable.
  2. Humility is characterized by the absence of arrogance. Humble people know they are not royalty but, rather, a work in progress. They understand their victories come, yes, through hard work, but also from the blessings of innate gifts and social privileges.
  3. Centeredness is derived from an inner core of peace. Imagine a silent samurai who never needs to flex his muscles to prove how fearsome he is. He is at peace and, therefore, calm, perceptive, and rational.
  4. Graciousness is the quality of unconditional love, just as authentic parents unconditionally love their children, regardless of their youngsters’ flaws. These people are compassionate, merciful, and forgiving.

The visible personality values of achievement above the surface

  1. Curiosity is a quality that thrives on learning. These explorers are constantly seeking new and diverse experiences. They know there is a risk in becoming masters of a single skill, for if one is good with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The benefit of curiosity is a life of adventure.
  2. Fitness is a prerequisite for a healthy system. These people know that physical wellness enhances their social, intellectual, and spiritual lives.
  3. Independence is an American mantra. We esteem individuals who are able to solve their own problems by their own will and ingenuity. (At the same time, we must remember that early social and economic standing influences personal success.)
  4. Discipline is the facility to complete what is begun. Disciplined people employ their education (however learned) to contribute to their community and, incidentally, derive a sense of well-being.

The visible personality values of social graces above the surface

  1. Loyalty is a tenacious allegiance to family, friends, and colleagues. They see others as gifted in their own ways and, therefore, deserving of their respect. They view themselves as dependable, ready to be of service when called upon—even when the moment is inconvenient.
  2. Presence is the quality of quieting one’s inner chatter while listening wholeheartedly to others. They make themselves fully available.
  3. Empathy is the ability to enter another person’s world. Empathic people temporarily table their subjective assumptions and doctrines. It doesn’t matter if they disagree with what the other is saying, for they don’t listen to scold or school, but to understand.
  4. Humor is the capacity to see things from ludicrous angles, to be able to draw a laugh when they say, “Gee, a guy could get killed and die” or “The future ain’t what it used to be.” They are able to poke fun at themselves and only tease when teasing is absolutely safe.

These are daunting qualities for anyone to pursue. Some will do better than others (environment is a critical factor). However, authenticity thrives when these principles are internalized, and the gap between the ideal and true selves is narrowed. When that happens, peace, happiness, and well-being are the consequences.

I have one final recommendation for parents, teachers, and managers. The qualities listed here—values that produce authentic children, students, and employees—flourish in an environment of love and acceptance.

In fairness to Bunkie, his rudeness may be the consequence of too little love.

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