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Fork in the Road: Living authentically

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | January 11th, 2016

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
I recall having a conversation with a friend of mine recently in which she firmly stated it’s impossible for her not to be herself all the time. I chuckled to myself at the notion because it seemed so self-evident, but what she really meant by her statement was that she finds it difficult to turn certain aspects of herself on and off depending on the audience. In other words, according to sociologist Erving Goffman’s literature, she’s always on-stage.

I can only imagine just how exhausted she is, as not even the hardest working man or woman in showbiz could be expected to live up to that kind of stamina. I wonder however where this pressure she’s putting on herself stems from: does she think she’ll be liked any less if she doesn’t have her pistols blazing 24/7?

Perhaps conversely she’s subconsciously trying to avoid intimacy by claiming that she truly doesn’t have a softer cuddly side? Or maybe none of it is truly her, but rather an elaborate and exaggerated façade she’s created to mask her insecurities? But even then, a part of her would still be showing for those in-tune enough to dig below the surface.

When I asked her about the rationale behind her behaviour, she simply responded by saying that if she doesn’t present 100 per cent of herself to everyone, she felt she wouldn’t be behaving authentically, which brings us to today’s topic at hand.

What does authenticity really mean? If I don’t show the world everything that I am, does it make me insincere, or is it a matter of self-preservation? Or perhaps am I simply reserving my more intimate nature to those who are most deserving? Should the bank teller bear witness to my family member with addiction issues? Should my parents be privy to everything that occurred during my experimental teenage years? Can’t some stuff just be for me? If I evolve over time, does it mean I’m losing pieces of myself, gaining pieces, or is it something in between?

Unlike single-celled organisms, we function beyond the mere two gears of stop and go. It’s never just black or white, but always something in between. We are complex creatures capable of complex thoughts, actions, beliefs and behaviours.

There is no single version of who you are, but rather who you are to different people and in different scenarios. This I believe is the key ingredient my friend was missing in her recipe; she was looking at the world from the perspective of how she defines herself, failing to realize that a much bigger piece of the pie is how others define us and what we learn about ourselves through those definitions.

To my coworkers, I am a peer; to my parents, I am a daughter; to my husband, I am a wife; to my cats, I am their caretaker. When I’m stressed, I am short-tempered; when I’m happy, I’m hilarious; when I’m tired, I’m grumpy; when I’m excited, I’m inspiring.

I’m not defined by a single aspect, attribute or moment of my life, but by my collective existence. I am all of those things. I have all of those attributes. What defines who I am to a given person is the nature of our interaction, not my willingness or unwillingness to be authentic. It’s always me, I’m just selective with who sees and experiences what.

I think perhaps this is what my friend struggles with: defining relationships and knowing, in each circumstance, who to give what.

While there’s certain bravery in wearing your heart on your sleeve, there’s also a naivety in believing that some won’t take advantage of it. While I don’t condone dishonesty or pretending to be something you’re not, I do think it’s important to navigate your interactions with others based on situational cues.

You may be willing to spill your guts to anyone who will listen, but before doing so, I’d recommend you to pause and reflect as to how this action may be received and interpreted, and further what consequences will come of it. In other words, I strongly suggest you develop a healthy respect for the concept of self-disclosure and an even healthier respect for self-preservation.
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