Friday, March 12, 2021

The Ups and Downs of Authenticity

I have a number of friends who send only "formal" emails.
"Hello there, Jim! I trust the pandemic has..."
...blah blah blah. It's like they put on their TV announcer voice and do the thing. They're not actually communicating, it's communicative gesturing. They watch themselves, in the mirrors of their minds, corresponding. Authenticity is hard for many people. They're starring in movies in their head.

I generally shake off such niceties, though I try to be good-natured about it. When my exasperation is noticed, people always attribute it to some issue with the particular form. "The Pandemic" must be a touchy subject for me. I must prefer another formal template! But, no. The template itself is the problem. Drop the stiltedness and just be real. Talk to me! Don't announce at me! Let's not play out a canned scene, sharing wry observations and maintaining "connection" so we can feel duly correspondy. I don't like to play contrived scenes. Can't we bake fresh?

Alas, such people prefer to receive emails that way, too (every friend has a handbook on style and engagement to be reverse-engineered and diligently followed). If I shoot a quickie note - "Hey, check out this video", or "Don't forget to get vaccinated!" - to a formal communicator, I can sense their frantic effort to recombobulate - to return the communication back onto proper track. "Jim, what a delight to hear from you once again, and thanks ever so much for the video link. Rebecca sends her very best, and I trust the pandemic has..."

But, late-ish in life, I've learned something very important and little-noticed. When such people "get real", you'll very often wish they'd left on the wrapping paper. It's not clean in there. They were doing you a favor. They were right. It's better this way.

Certain segments of our society - and I was one of them for a good long while - foolishly assume that authenticity's always the good stuff. Scrape down to the core, and you'll find nothing but beauty and light.

Nyuh-uh. In many - perhaps most - cases, the core is either an aggrieved needy mess, a savage tasmanian devil, or a sniveling homunculus. Tightly-wrapped people should be revered for performing a public service. It is not in your - or their - best interest for them to come as they are; to speak from the heart; to let it all hang out. Informality, it took me forever to learn, is not always the best course. It's not gems they're hiding (this is also why intuition is overrated).

I've come to appreciate uptightness. In many cases, it's just people keeping their gelatin from squirting and talons from slashing. They are showing that they care.

For one thing, I've come to view Northern Europeans in a very different light. My propensity was always more African/Latin-American. I'm one for exuberant syncopation and unbridled soulfulness. "What it is, baby!", etc etc. But (especially after managing a million people on the Internet) I've learned that bridling has its virtues.

To learn this lesson in a manner that can never be unlearned, check out the notorious/villainized Lars Von Trier film "Antichrist", in which the director kicks you in the head repeatedly to unencumber you of the foolish notion that "opening up and acting from one's deepest and most authentic feelings" is always the best course for everyone. In the film, a wife has been in therapy, where she's taken the credo to heart, and, on a rustic vacation weekend with her very patient, very understanding, very nurturing husband, turns into a fiend, eventually (graphically) severing his penis. And from that point it gets really violent and crazy. It's the longest 108 minutes you ever lived, but you will assuredly get the message.

They say great art changes a person. Most people who view this film change their willingness to ever see another Lars Von Trier movie. My shift was more per the director's intent: even though this represents a worst-case scenario (i.e. hellish savagery isn't always the outcome), I'm way less eager to see everyone acting from their unbridled, uninhibitted, fully authentic core. Thanks, Lars, I get it now.

As a devoted yogi, I know for a fact that our core of cores is, indeed, pure love and light. But what therapy junkies and new-age types naively fail to recognize is that, in most cases, a vast layer of scorching molten mantle lies between crust and core. That, in fact, is the reason people are driven to button themselves up in the first place. So don't unbutton the buttons unless you're prepared to dismantle the mantle.

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