Authenticity, Congruence and Sled Dogs
We can look at the self as a divided self. Studies of people with split brains show how easy this is; when the corpus callosum is severed, each half of the brain acts as sort of an individual human. You can even remove an entire hemisphere and be left with a functional person.
There are many ways of dividing the brain and mind. The executive functions in the frontal and prefrontal lobes might be most responsible for bringing all these parts together into the illusion of a unified whole, making you think you are one single being with a sole intent. Our modern belief that you are the thing in your head that thinks in words and with consciousness might be counterproductive to this integration, heightening the perception that there are things in your head that are not you.
In short, we are each one being made up of many divisions. When we function well, those sub-sets of us are pulling together; we are function poorly, they pull in different directions.
Authenticity is sometimes seen as one single construct, a trait that we have rather than a state we are in. It could be summed up as honesty or self-honesty or rigorous application of one’s values or principles (that is, synonymous with integrity). I prefer to think of authenticity as a sled team with winning potential.
We need to integrate the idea of congruence here. Congruence is when your thoughts, actions and words line up and are appropriate to the environment in which you find yourself. It might be odd to think of some authenticity existing outside your person, but bear with me. If you are an elementary school teacher, seeking adult friendships in your classroom is incongruent – examples abound. Similarly, giving free reign to your thoughts or feelings might be incongruent, if those thoughts and feelings do not serve the age environment you are in. Teaching history form a conspiricist perspective might be wonderful college material, but is unlikely to serve 3rd graders well.
We can take this idea of congruence a step further. We are made up of so much more. Inside us we find our subconscious or unconscious or preconscious minds, which are catch-all phrases for everything going below the threshold of effortful thought. This might include: how we process our senses; how our brains work through spatial problems; the tasks we are doing on autopilot; all the memories we sift through moment-be-moment with this moment as a template; our dreams for the future; our anxieties and dreads; our aspirations for self; and much, much more.
In this moment, likely we are like a team of sled-dogs all pulling in different directions. Perhaps there is work to be done, and our aspirational self wants to be responsible, while our anxious self would rather play Facebook games. These two parts of us pull in different directions and our sled moves in one way or the other, but slowly. We think we have mediated this with our conscious mind and so blame ourselves when Facebook wins over grading papers – but the real blame lies with the self for not more consciously integrating all these selves into a coherent team.
Knowing yourself would be the first step towards this type of authenticity. What do you want – not just with the frontal lobes that know their responses are being judged, but really with all of your mind? That answer probably includes some unsavory ideas, but they have to be brought to light as much as the “good” or wholesome parts of our thought. What do you want? How and who do you want to be? How is your next action going to take you closer to that goal or further away?
Now you can begin to bring your actions and words in line. When you speak and act in accordance with how you feel and know, with what you want (and want to want), you have started to pull as a team. You are the Army of One you’ve heard so much about. It might be authentic to spend the morning on the couch watching TV, if your principles and emotions have lined up with your deeds and environment. It might be authentic to lie to your family – if you value their feelings over pure, unquestioning honesty.
A friend of mine once said, “Authenticity is not a moral code.” Indeed it is not, when constructed in this manner. Rather, it is a way of being intentional. Authentic people might not be better than inauthentic ones. It could be said that Adolf Hitler rose to power because of his authenticity – all his dogs were pulling his sled in one direction, at least in the beginning. Just as smart people might not be better people, there needs to be some integration of empathy when judging goodness.
I should rather like to write more, but my dogs are barking and I need to decide which ones are best suited to help me win the race.
-- Jason Dias