An Introvert’s Authenticity

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For me the trickiest part of authenticity (if not the most intense or dramatic) has been being introverted.

One of the concerns and values thats sit nearest to my heart is authenticity. (If you would like to know more about the thread of concern with authenticity that runs through my life, you can read more about my life from the perspective of authenticity.) For me this has meant developing a particular lifestyle and approach to relationships.

For me, having authenticity as a value has meant embarking on the project to develop a lifestyle that is shaped around what I care about — time with those I love, ‘self-development’, time to think and journal, and much else besides. I haven’t been entirely successful (yet); the project is ongoing.

Having authenticity as a value, for me, has also meant a particular approach to relationships. It has meant things like authentic responses to rituals rather than automatic reactions (it took me a long while to learn that it is possible to give an authentic response within a ritual), being willing to voice disagreements and take the time to sort out how we can live together if we disagree, and valuing instead of minimising differences. Living out this kind of relating is also something I am still learning how to do.

For me, authenticity also means embracing all parts of ourselves: the parts we see as dark and the parts we identify as of the light. I think it is usual that we come to the dark parts first. Being with our violence and the parts we are ashamed of is far from easy. However, for myself and those I know well enough to know about, dealing with the dark has been easier than embracing the light. It is often easier to confess to failure and know our weakness than to know that we are truly remarkable and can contribute to something splendid (however much this is done through our fragility and with humility). It was Thomas Merton who said, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun”. (See Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.)

For me, the trickiest part of authenticity (if not the most intense or dramatic) has been being introverted. I get my energy from being by myself. I would rather have a few good friends than many acquaintances. I don’t do parties much, and I don’t do small talk much when I do go to a party.

In some situations this is counter-cultural. During a ‘performance review’ at work I was told that I needed to be better at “selling myself”. I have not the slightest interest in selling myself. (I regard this kind of thing as largely a cop out: it absolves the supervisor or assessor of responsibility. But that’s another story.)

I remember a story from a management book. (I’ve forgotten the book entirely I’m afraid, so don’t know the reference). The book was about different styles of corporate leadership and advocating for a more ‘feminine’ style (one more usually practised by women, emphasising communication and inclusion rather than the competition and conflict the author suggested was usually practised by men). The author told of a woman who came to her feeling bad because she wasn’t assertive in her communications. The author asked this woman if she got the outcomes she wanted. The woman confessed that she did — but didn’t achieve this by being assertive. The author was arguing for a different culture of management, one that questioned assertiveness always being seen as good.

I think our Western culture often sees extraversion as good. Corporate culture may be an extreme example. But there are others: our schools teach competitive sport, not prayer and contemplation; our parliaments are not famed as places of quiet deliberation.

This means, to remain true to my introversion, that I have worked in some fields (like education) and not others (like sales). And it has meant grasping some kinds of opportunities; the internet and blogging are marvellous gifts to introverts I think (at least for those introverts who are comfortable with words).

I think that authenticity means not being ashamed of ourselves. And I think this is different to drawing attention to ourselves or wanting to promote ourselves. I think this means that introverts like me will find it more difficult to be authentic in some situations than others; this has certainly been my experience.

I would like to hear your experience. Are there places and situations where you find it easier to be true to yourself? Have you found some times when it is almost impossible to be authentic? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments.

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