Over on LinkedIn I stumble over Ten Unmistakable Habits of Utterly (sic) Authentic People. Complete with a picture of a toothsome massively haired young female for added clicks. Thus:
To live authentically, you must own your actions and ensure that they align with your beliefs and needs. This can be a difficult thing to maintain when external forces pressure you to do something you’re not comfortable with or to be someone you’re not
Authentic people are deeply in tune with who they are and what they want. Their ability to live their life in harmony with their true selves comes from some clearly discernible habits that any of us can study and incorporate into our repertoire (sic)
Authentic people don’t sit at their desks thinking, “Well, if my boss would just make this job worthwhile, I’d do a better job.” The carrot-and-stick approach just isn’t relevant to them. They’re motivated from within
Authentic people have a very firm grasp on reality. When things don’t go their way, they don’t get trapped in denial, and they don’t sit around whining about how things should be different
And so on. Zzzzzzzzzz.
Maybe you want ten more? Try 10 Qualities of Authentic People! Lo:
To be authentic, unique and individual you have to know who and what you are, which comes through self-reflection. How can you know who you are if you are following everyone else? Self-reflection puts you in a state of personal harmony, causing you to experience less anxiety
When you live authentically you have no time to waste emotion on temporary and sometimes necessary setbacks. The focus for you is always long term and on what possibilities patience and hard work will garner when you continue pressing forward
Open communication is woven into the fabric of your authenticity (sic). You are secure in who you are and combine honesty with empathy, which more often than not brings you success. You never leave anyone guessing or hurting because you’re transparent. You are able to appreciate yourself, flaws and all; making you self-confident and secure; not cocky and conceited
When you know who you are you do not hold judgmental attitudes towards others. As you evaluate the thoughts and opinions others hold, even those you do not agree with, you still place them under an umbrella of respect
Back in 2013 Steven Poole at New Statesman did a fine demolition job on all this psychobabble, albeit in a rather pseudy New Statesmany way:
It also reifies a simplistic notion of what is fake to begin with. A blanket privileging of the concrete and the in-person, an indie disdain for post-production or Photoshopping, implicitly downgrades artworks that from their inception are computer-mediated and could not exist otherwise, even though there is nothing inauthentic about an uplifting Eurotrance track or a Hockney iPad painting …
The fetish for authenticity, here as in the realms of food and vintage clothing, shows itself to be inherently anti-modern, always looking back to an imagined, prelapsarian idyll …
To define a person’s authenticity as the perfect conjunction of outward seeming and inward being is not a new idea. (Hamlet is nearly as outraged by the inauthenticity of Claudius’s acting – “That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain!” – as he is by Claudius having murdered his father.)
But what matters most now is that such personal authenticity be performed plausibly: on reality TV, paradoxically, contestants routinely accuse their rivals of being “fake” or “insincere”, and attempt to present as “genuine” or “real” a front as possible.
Phew! See also his astute swipe at Sartre’s ‘bad faith’.
It must be said that my own book Speeches for Leaders dwells now and then on what makes a speech or speaker ‘authentic’. Here I look at THAT speech by Martin Luther King:
The words are difficult, even cumbersome (“in a sense,” “fall heir,” “default,” “promissory note,” “insofar,” “vaults,” “insufficient”). Would any speechwriter today write something like that to open a front-rank address before a vast audience?
No. The emphasis now is on simplicity and accessibility: being understood, especially by focus groups. (Quick, check on the latest fancy readability parameters how my draft speech measures up to the comprehension of the average teenager.)
This speech-of-speeches shows a man standing before a mass of people, many of whom are far less educated and less articulate than he is. He is, above all, authentic. He knows and loves words, and he is comfortable using complex imagery and language to build his argument. He speaks as himself, not dumbing down his language in a patronizing way, even at the cost of not being fully understood at each phrase:
You asked me to speak to you. Well, here I am, long words and all!
Elsewhere in the book I link the speaker’s ‘authenticity’ to an explicit willingness to take chances and put his/her own reputation on the line:
In each case the leader went out of his way to attract public attention by committing himself to a strong, almost unqualified policy position that many smart people would find annoying or just plain wrong. But that’s what gives these speeches their power. They sound authentic. The leader is speaking from both heart and head, and taking huge reputational risks in doing so:
Yup, sometimes we all just get things wrong, for the best possible reasons. If so, it’s OK to change course.
I want to be quite clear on one thing. I feel so strongly about this issue that I’m putting my own reputation on the line by making this speech.
My sense of personal responsibility gives me no choice here. Deal with it.
Thus the issue.
As we’ve seen above, there’s a busy idea out there now that ‘authenticity’ comes from or indeed means nice values and only nice values. Being transparent, fair, deeply in tune with oneself, self-reflecting, harmonious and so on.
This plays over into the sentimental notion that the only valid leadership these days is the leadership that reflects humble, caring, generous, inclusive values.
Bad people can be authentic too. In fact, they’re often really good at being authentically bad, and highly effective in their own terms. They’re transparently, openly, self-reflectingly, harmoniously bad.
That was the point I made on LinkedIn:
Boring and obnoxious or even horrendous people can be very honest about it. Weren’t Hitler and Stalin and Mao both ‘honest’ and indeed authentic? There’s no reason to treat ‘authenticity’ as something that is a priori good-in-itself
Leadership is not just about being nice and reasonable and compromising. It’s also about being STRONG, or coming across as strong. Inflexible. Uncompromising.
Thus the appeal of Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump and all sorts of other people who make prim Western social democrats grasp for smelling-salts.
This startling video shows a younger Vladimir Putin back in 2002 telling us what to expect:
There are now some seven billion people living on Earth. Not a single one of them could have drafted those crude words for Putin as a proposed answer to a tough question on Chechnya. They emerged smoothly, almost nonchalantly, from him and him alone.
The effect was creepy, but staggeringly powerful. He did not answer the question. Instead he conveyed a top-level message of sheer ruthlessness that the European leaders and most of the foreign journalists sitting next to him had never heard before. It was all the more brutal because it was delivered to their faces in front of a global audience:
You people here live in a world of nice polite European rules. I live in Russia. We do things differently.
Come and visit me. If you dare.
Yet despite (or maybe because of) such repellent Soviet-style cynicism, President Putin’s speeches project strength and self-confidence: in a word, leadership. They draw on subtle language in closely woven intellectual arguments to exemplify patriotic pride and defiance.
The audience at home and beyond Russia’s borders is left in no doubt that what President Putin says is what he believes, and that under no circumstances will he ever apologize for anything. He is only concerned about the fate of Russia. This sends the Russian masses themselves a simple message:
I know what you want.
You want a strong leader who stands up for Russia’s eternal interests, and will do what it takes to promote them without effete Western so-called compromises.
I am that strong leader. Be proud! Be grateful when I order you to make sacrifices for the fatherland!
In a world of faux management-speak authenticity, the person who cuts through all the tripe looks more than real enough. And so may have much appeal to voters.