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Conversation is the Way to Authenticity

Stop endeavoring to seek out your true, immutable authentic self as that is an impossible task. However, do not then succumb to the pessimistic despair in believing everything and everyone, including you, is irredeemably artificial.

To attempt to define that singular, consistent version of our self-identity is to try to create a static form of our self when we and everything around us is dynamic. The amalgamation of our varied daily experiences, the miscellany of social interactions and the compounding effect of time are a dynamic force upon us making it impossible to discern a perpetual single “I.” We each exist in relation to others and to our experiences in the world.

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47dd-ff8b-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.gIf you asked a personal acquaintance to describe you, what words would be used? If you asked a social media friend, what words might they use? What about if you asked your boss or your intimate partner to describe you, what words would be used then? If the descriptions are not the same, then who are you really? We show the world many faces and clothe ourselves in faceted personas.

Stoic philosopher Epictetus observed that true happiness is a verb. I would suggest that authenticity is a verb too. A more productive use of our time is to discern a progression towards coherent versions of self (or selves). To examine our real selves while we live in a state of ongoing transition requires an ongoing active approach. That approach is conversation. It is through conversation that we surface our inner beliefs and expose them to the world for inspection. It is through conversation that we contrast our words with our deeds. It is through conversation that we encounter the humanity in others and so understand our self in relation to humanity.

There is evidence to suggest that we are what we do. Contrary to exhortations to locate then follow our passions, research instead indicates that what we put effort into is what we become passionate about. Similarly, as Epictetus observed, we are what we talk about. If we confine our conversational attention to trivial issues, so shall we become trivial. Perhaps we can talk our way along a journey lined with virtue, truth and happiness.

Although you cannot hope to reach the destination that reveals your authentic self, still you should use conversation to travel there.

2 Comments

  1. Amy Chittenden says

    Well said and an encourages a note to myself, stop filling time with trivial things!

    • Thanks for your comment. I think you hit an astute note, which is that trivial things can be fun, rewarding and meaningful for us, but not if our time is filled with those things. Everything in moderation, perhaps…

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