What does it mean to be truly authentic? Authenticity is one of my key values, and I’ll tell you why. I grew up in a family that hid from the truth, to the extreme. I’m not sure if my Mom even recognized fact from fiction by the time she passed away at 59. We had BIG secrets throughout my childhood that still haunt me to this day. So, needless to say, it has always been really important to me to be “real.” But last week when my teenager said, “how honest do you want me to be?” I came face-to-face with a moral dilemma. Ignorance is a blissfully safe place from which to operate. I rather like the peaceful flow of living in a reality of my own making…where everyone is exactly the way they pretend to be. And besides, I have done quite a lot recently in terms of blowing up old relationship structures that aren’t working for me, thank you very much. So I took a breath and felt fear grip my belly and in that briefest moment I wondered how honest I really did want him to be. What I chose was to let go of pretense, expectations, or what I thought I was supposed to say or do. Instead I connected with what was present in that moment and I’d like to believe that something new was born out of that authentic conversation.
How do I stop playing it safe and take the risk that goes with having those authentic conversations? I recently took a step in that direction with one of my closest friends. Today I question the wisdom of that decision…authenticity is not a panacea. In being totally vulnerable, I opened up the possibility of a different relationship and sadly rather than moving closer I may have moved us further apart. This raises the question, can one be too authentic? Is the truth sometimes just more than people want to hear? Authentic conversations take us away from the smooth surface and plunge us into dark murky waters of unpredictability.
With my teenager, the question becomes what kind of relationship do I want to have with him in the last few years he’s at home? Should we operate like our military did for years with gays and lesbians, “Don’t ask, Don’t tell?” Do we become polarized like the Republicans and Democrats? Or do I aspire to have a different conversation than most parents are having, one that offers the possibility to influence his decisions in terms of safety, moderation, balance, and responsibility? Generally speaking, how much do I really want to know about his life? And how much do my friends want to know about mine? How authentic do I want my relationships to be?
If I’m being totally honest with myself, I don’t know the answer to that question. I am going to have to feel my way for a bit. I know for sure though that my relationship with him is worth the risk. And I am learning that things aren’t always what they seem, or what you hope, but they are what they are.
I also realized in the past few days there was a bit of an authentic conversation formula that seemed to work. Play with it if you like, and give me your tips in terms of what works for you.