What Authenticity Is Not... And Is...

Which is more authentic? When someone asks you to do something, do you:

  • Say, “yes,” but don’t do it?
  • Say, “no,” but do it anyway?

The answer?

It depends.

Authenticity is often misunderstood to mean many different things, like:

  • Acting the same way in all situations.
  • Being transparent.
  • Always telling the truth.

But these things aren’t authentic at all.


  • Authenticity does not require that we act the same in all situations. We may act differently at home than we do at work than we do when we’re out with our friends. Does that make us inauthentic? Not necessarily. It may just mean that we recognize that our values can be expressed differently in different places.

For example, it’s standard practice in schools for teachers and administrators to call each other by title - Miss, Mrs., Mr., Dr., etc. - to show respect. Certainly those educators don’t go home at night and call their partners and family members by those titles. Does that mean they don’t respect their family? Highly doubtful. It simply means that different behaviors are appropriate in different settings. It has nothing to do with authenticity.

  • Authenticity does not mean transparency. Authenticity is often confused with transparency, but they are not related. Transparency is about openness and accountability. We are transparent with information so that people have everything they need to get their jobs done or to make an informed decision.

Being authentic does not mean that we have to reveal all of our innermost thoughts and feelings. Spilling your guts may feel good, but it’s not authentic.

  • Authenticity is not necessarily the same as “telling the truth.” Certainly, authenticity is about telling the truth to yourself… but it’s not always necessary to tell the truth to others. (Did I hit a nerve with that statement? Good.)
  • Authenticity does not mean it’s OK to hurt others. If we say we value respect, then we have to treat others with respect. If what we have to say may be hurtful, then it’s probably best left unsaid.

So, what is authenticity?

Authenticity is the action we take based on our highest values.

Being authentic requires that we:

1) Are clear about our values.
2) Understand that values and behaviors are different things.
3) Know that there are many behaviors that express the same value.
4) Recognize that different behavior may be needed in different situations.
5) Choose to act accordingly.


Authenticity means that we narrow the gap between the person we show to the world and the person we truly are through living our values.

How authentic are you?

(P.S. I’ve deliberately not given further explanation on our opening riddle. What do you think the right answer is and why? Join me on social media to let me know your thoughts.)


© 2017, Susan McCuistion

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