I recently wrote that authenticity is a concept of the self that is perpetually evolving and that conversation is a means by which we can navigate towards self-awareness. In reading Maria Konnikova’s book, The Confidence Game, I am reminded of another feature of the human condition: We lie all the time. And we like it that way. In fact, we lie to ourselves about ourselves to the extent that a realistic view of ourselves is extremely difficult.
Konnikova’s insightful work reminds me of Intel’s resident anthropologist, Genevieve Bell, declaring at the 2014 Delight Conference that telling lies is a perennial, intrinsic feature of being human.
“We hold an unwavering commitment to the notion that we are special,” writes Konnikova, “and not just special, but more special than most anyone else.” Her book cites reams of research, such as one study finding that in 1977 95% of the faculty at the University of Nebraska thought they were better than average at teaching and another study revealing that less than 5% of students expected to perform below average. We emerge ahead of others, says Konnikova, “for a simple reason: we focus on our own most positive traits.”
On the flip side, this self-deception can have benefits in terms of self-esteem, health and happiness. Konnikova points out that, “Remaining in a state of pleasant deception is often preferable to confronting the truth.” In which case, why would we even want to seek out our authentic selves when the likelihood is that we are as mediocre, average and bland as the next person?
This contemporary quest for authenticity is more akin to an attempt at self-improvement and living aspirational values than revealing our interior character. This, perhaps, is where genuine practice of our art of conversation may aid us. Through conversation we may find perspectives that are truthful and reflect the nuances of our everyday, common lived experiences, as well as engage in an approach towards these truths that promotes connection and, perhaps, softens their blow. The route to authenticity is not supposed to be easy, nor is it guaranteed to reveal the aspirational character conjured by our deceptive imaginations.