On Authenticity and Integrity

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    Each of us begins with a unique and dynamic essence. It is the irreducible midpoint of self. When you are in touch with that center, it feels "just right," like Goldilocks in baby bear’s bed. Contact with your inner truth allows knowing beyond analysis, hedonic concerns or spiritual connection. That center has no shape, color, odor or weight. It is immense and infinitesimal, ephemeral and essential, the purist expression of self. It is the source of true spiritual, intellectual, creative, emotional and social development across the life span.

    It doesn’t matter if you believe the center comes from a natural source, a supernatural source, or a Cracker Jack box. We have many creation stories, but they are just stories – not reality. The center is reality. When we let go of arguments about and quest for causes of the center, we can embrace the study of our own center. True and deep understanding of ourselves is required if we are to grasp our place in the universe – the meanings of our lives.

    This center is the source of personal authenticity. But it has to be unpacked and nourished.

    Authentic development

    There is no such thing as a phony baloney baby – we all begin with an authentic essence. As we age and develop, our essence expresses itself. Early expressions are primal interests, likings and attractions. As symbolic thought develops, those primal expressions elaborate into rudimentary values. This is not a doing – it is an allowing. When you plant a seed, the seed unpacks itself, unfolding destiny.

    As values develop, they guide deciding, thinking and acting. This creates feedback loops. The feedback allows refinements in deciding, thinking and acting. Gradually, we improve at aligning our actions with our values. Feedback and countless repetitions refine the authentic self, just as countless grains of sand wear an ocean stone smooth.

    The authentic essence develops and evolves organically. It cannot be changed by external events, but it can be thwarted and left unrealized. The seed may whither in thirst – the stone may be removed from the water. The unfulfilled essence can be activated if constraints are overcome and the essence can express itself at any time in the life span.

    Values, integrity & the authentic self

    The essential center of mature and actualized people – the purely authentic self – has spawned and crystallized a set of values that are congruent with the authentic self. Values matter, because they make explicit a person’s sense of meaningfulness. The number of possible values is innumerable. It includes truth, justice and service to others. It also includes things without moral or ethical implications, such as careful thought, spontaneity, being funny, intense experiences or creative expressions. Some superimpose cultural ideals about good and bad, right and wrong, better or worse onto values. But the values that emerge from the authentic essence are apart from that. They are unswayed by cultural convention, popularity or moral standing. They simply are. The values of people who thrive need only be congruent with the authentic center.

    Integrity develops when you live by aligning your actions with your values. When action and inner self are integrated, we experience integrity and others experience us as authentic. Simply put, integrity is the experience of integrated living.

    Disintegration happens when you live outside your values. The person withers. Power and energy reduce. This cumulative effect corrodes the self – a gradual death. Lack of authentic living commonly results in unfulfilled lives, emotional distress, addiction and lack of serenity, purpose and passion in life.

    I feel a difference when I encounter someone who comes from an authentic place and someone who does not. I never notice such a distinction in regard to non-human species. Carrots always seem to me to be being themselves. Scratch the surface of the frooffiest dog and you find an authentic dog – progeny of the wolf. I don’t know about angels or space aliens or computer artificial intelligence. Maybe, like humans, they struggle with this authenticity thing. But I doubt it. The quest for authenticity is a lonely human thing.

    The artful work of developing authenticity and integrity is not without obstacles and not always easy. Specifically, it involves increasing self-acceptance, reducing self-deception, living from the inside out and minimizing the degree to which desires overwhelm values. That nicely frames the way.

    The urge to fulfill self and to develop and express what one most deeply is motivates this growthful way. We seem to have arrived at a moment of rebirth of honor for this urge. We move with respect for each other, harmony with the earth, and the vision that we can authentically differentiate ourselves and by so doing make our lives and the lives around us, better, richer, fuller and more meaningful. Amen.

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    Dr. Michael Johnson is a life coach and psychologist. In coaching and therapy, he comes to this issue of authenticity and integrity again and again. In therapy the clutter and noise of defensive adaptations to difficult circumstances -- what we call symptoms -- often occlude self-awareness to the extent that authenticity is out of reach until the noise can be quieted. Among coaching clients, honest self-exploration and coming to deep self-acceptance set the stage for increased authenticity and integrity. In turn, these allow marvelous life developments in work, creativity, relationships, spirituality and play. Reach Michael at (972) 317-5398 or [email protected]. Copyright © 2006 Dr. Michael Johnson. All rights reserved.

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