“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”-George Washington
When I think about the men that I admire, men that made history and lived full lives, I think about men who were authentic; men who were honest about themselves and with themselves. These men, while not perfect, were always true to their character and in doing so, became legends in there own right.
It strikes me that today, authentic men are getting harder and harder to find, they are a dying breed in many circles of culture. Instead, we are left with the players and paupers, who view life as a game to be played or a contest to be won. We are fast becoming a society of shades and phonies, men who are willing to be everything to everyone and nothing to themselves.
This facade that many men now portray in their home life, work life, and social lives threatens to lead to the extinction of true manliness. When we ask where have all the good men gone, we are left to look around and find only boys and pretenders.
I orginally had labeled this virtue as “honesty”, which of course is vitally important to authenticity, but upon further reflection I realized that authenticity embodies what we are lacking in today’s standard of manliness. Honesty is a part of the picture that makes up the authentic man, but is not the only facet.
To be an authentic man, one must first be honest with himself and then honest with those around him.
This problem in our society stems from the desire to succeed at any cost. From a young age boys are learning that they themselves are no better than anyone else and must learn to “fit in” with the group, to go with the flow, if they want to succeed. Boys are taught that their wildness and energy should be stiffled and their competitive edge blunted, far better for society if boys learn to stifle their true selves in favor of “civilizing”. So boys learn to push their masculinity down and become more docile, yet devious.
Boys learn that to succeed in society they should act a certain way, portray a certain exterior. In relationships this often leads to lying, cheating men who appear faithful on the outside, but are really anything but. In work, this manifests itself as the back stabbing, brown noser, who pretends to be everyone’s friend while secretly undermining all those around him for his own personal gain. Instead of being true to himself, men today have learned that it is far easier to fake it and become like a chameleon in every situation.
The result of this leads to a man who has no idea who he is and mostly despises himself. When you have no steady core, no essential essence to who you are, you are left with a hollow man of straw.
The first step on the path to authenticity is to be honest with yourself about who you are and what you are about.
This means cutting through all the refuse and masks that you have come to rely on and discovering what is at the core of your soul. When you look in the mirror who do you see? What strengths do you have and what weaknesses? If you were not afraid of what others thought, who would you be?
Fear is the driving factor for many men in this regard. They are afraid of what they might find and what others will think of them. So what do we get instead? Carbon copies of “men”, the jock, the player, the business man, the geek, the musician. This is not to say that these labels can’t be part of the true nature of the authentic man, but that we tend to turn to these labels to define us, instead of the other way around.
We have all known people, and at times have played the part ourselves, that have longed for acceptance from a group, and so they dress like them, talk like them, and act like them, even though it is the farthest thing from who they really are. When we do this we are not being honest, we are not being authentic to who we are.
The authentic man recognizes what has shaped him through his life, his struggles, his passions, his family and friends, and forges all of these into a steel core of grit that is his character.
The authentic man searches his soul and determines who he is and what he wants to be; then he decides to be it. To be authentic we must decide to be who we are all the time and in every situation.
Once we have looked honestly into ourselves and found the person that we are, we must show that person honestly to our family, friends, and colleagues. We must give up the masks that we have worn to get ahead, we have to show our faces honestly and live lives of character. No longer can we change our personas depending on the situations we find ourselves in, instead we will be bastions of authenticity in all aspects of our lives.
Sometimes this may lead to losing friends or things that stroke your ego, it may be difficult not to use the tools of gossip and flattery to get ahead, but when you decide to be the man you really are, then you will gain the respect of those around you, not for who you want to be, but for who you actually are.
It may seem odd that when I think of authenticity, I think of an actor, but to me John Wayne embodies much of that authenticity. When you see him as a Green Beret or a cowboy, his rugged manliness and stark personality shine through no matter the part. From what I have read and heard, he was much the same way in life as well. He was a man whose personality and character would cut through no matter what situation he found himself in. He was the same guy on the set, as he was at the diner later that night. He simply was who he was. And guess what? He was admired for it. Was he always perfect or even pleasant? No, but he was real and in our world reality is needed.
Wayne, Hemmingway, Washington, and countless others, were men who lived lives as themselves. They were true originals, never satisfied to be who they were not. The reason we know their names and their deeds is simple, they did what only they could do by being true to who they were. When we lie to ourselves and to others, we stunt our lives and hold ourselves back from accomplishment. We may think that mimiking someone else will lead us to success, but all it leads to is a cheap, hollow copy. To live a life of significance, we must choose to be who only we can be and follow through in ways that only we can.
If you want to break free of the quiet desperation that has enveloped your life, one step you must take is developing your authenticity. When you cast off the chains of expectation and fear, you will find the freedom to really live.
Don’t be content to fake it, what the world needs is you, the authentic you. Bringing that honesty into every aspect of your life will not only change your life, but the lives of all those around you. You will become a light for originality and character, that inspires legends and the lives of those you will never meet.
Be a man of authenticity, because the world can’t take anymore pretenders.