Authenticity: Good or Evil?

At the core, who and what am I?

Posted May 27, 2011

So, now that we are acquainted with some of the potential roles we can play, what we can clearly see is that the answer to the habituated, rote-like, knee-jerk response, which is exactly like the response we made yesterday, last year and 20 years ago, is to find and begin to live out of something more authentic.

The problem with that answer, however, is that most of us think that if we become more real, we are going to become uncivilized brutes, who would just as soon eat the face off of another human being as drink that morning latté.  We'll be selfish, carnal, wild little Freudian ids running around doing willy-nilly whatever, whenever, without regard to our so-called fellowman. 

We've been taught for so many centuries now that at the core we are evil---and yes we must introduce this topic here---that we are creatures of "original sin," whose naked selves are the very essence of sin itself.  This notion of self-definition has become archetypal---meaning that it is one of the powerrful definitions of "self" wondering around in the unconscious, seeking whom it may devour.

In part we've donned our masks and costumes in order to survive our childhoods, in whatever terms survival is understood, be it emotional survival, psychological survival, spiritual survival or physical survival or an odd mixture of any of these.  But that survival must live within the confines of the archetypes we have for the self. So, it must fit within the narrow paradigm aforementioned---in which if we do not absolutely trust our family and culture to both mold and restrain us, we will become that wild, sinful brute. Therefore, our masks and costumes either make us good, avoiding all of that supposed internal evil; or they make us bad, allowing us to identify with all that internal evil and live it out for all of those who won't, with the intention of protecting ourselves from the "good" people who don't recognize their own "bad." 

So, when we discuss the possibility that living authentically would offer us wholeness and blessed relief from the sameness of our repetitive actions and reactions and their consequences, we also encounter this archetype.  And it must be addressed. We must consciously decide if we are going to continue to believe that at our cores we are basically evil people, before we can take the leap into that core existence. 

But, of course, changing archetypal belief systems is not an easy task.  So, what's to be done?  Well, like most of us get into the ocean for a swim by degree, so it is that we will step slowly and experimentally into the unknown abyss of self-dom.

For example, one of the tasks I often assign to a client is to spend the next week asking himself what he would like to do next. So, you sit down to breakfast, what would you like to eat?  Would you like coffee or tea?  What would you like to do after that?  And after that?  And after that?  This journey is not intended to turn the client to edacious hedonism  The journey is intended to help the client discover the distinctions between true desire, and the wants generated by the role he's previously lived. In processing through what he wants to do next, he'll encounter all of the shoulds, as well as the wants of the role. But if he presses on, he might find those shoulds and wants remain unsatisfying and that he longs for something more, which, if he is willing, he can now give to himself. In order to do all of that, he'll be encountering some of his own beliefs regarding good and evil. 

My own theory is that in order to do the work of authenticity, we must, at the very least, suspend the dualistic and judging voice of what I call the good/evil complex. That suspension will involve looking critically at that critical voice, which is constantly assessing self-worth against the external values we've incorporated, and learning to find our own true values. Very often in therapy, a client will voice her belief. But, as the therapist, what I don't know is whether that expressed belief is what she truly believes or simply someone else's belief that she has incorporated as part of her need to survive---and which, therefore, props up the identity or mask and costume and its role. So I give her a simple but difficult assignment.  In this exercise or homework assignment, she will write that expressed belief on one side of a paper and ask herself if that's what she really, deep down, believes.  More often than not, the answer written on the other side of the paper is a crystal clear, whole belief that contradicts the expressed belief. On some level she's already known that she doesn't really agree with the expressed belief or with her own responsive behaviors to it.  But on another level---the level of the mask and costume---all she can feel is that the more authentic belief is wrong. 

Inner conflicts such as these can be a source of profound awakenings to authenticity, if we do the inner research necessary to discovering what is on either side of the conflict. The journey of finding the authentic Self will challenge this old archetype of self, which is steeped in perceptions of self we've incorporated from the external world. Many of these perceptions have to do with measuring ourselves against the values of the good/evil complex. The famous existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, puts it this way:

My either/or does not in the first instance denote the choice between good and evil; it denotes the choice whereby one chooses good and evil or excludes them (Kierkegaard, 1944, 1972, 486). 

The truth is that we simply don't trust ourselves to explore the regions of living that have to do with the deeper essence of who we are. Why? Because we can't be trusted. The human heart can't be trusted.  It is fickle and moody.  Human motivation can't be trusted; it gets lazy and motivated towards self-aggrandizement and avarice. But what we don't know is that it is the human heart covered over with an identity, a mask and costume, which is fickle and moody.  It is the motivation blinded by the role it must play that gets lazy or works only for self-aggrandizement and avarice. What we don't know, often even fear knowing, is that the more authentic we become, the more compassionate and giving we become.  We've all seen this, if we think about it, in the most real people we know. And finally, what we don't know is the distinctions between true desire and the wants that come from a mask and costume and its assigned role. 

So, without the shoulds, have tos, assigned wants, ought tos, obligations and duties--who would you be?  And NOW we are asking one of the right questions.  The answer is the journey to authenticity.  And every journey begins with a single step.  So, what do you truly desire to do next? 

 

Reference:

Kierkegaard, Soren (1992). Either/Or: a fragment of life, trans. Alastair Hannay. London: Pinguin Group.