Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Does It Mean to Be Authentic

We are what we have. Are we what we have? If we have a flashy, expensive sports car, people may see us as materially successful, an exciting risk taker and fun-loving. If we drive a mini-van, there are other expectations: family oriented with kids to drive around. Dressed in a suit? --a professional or perhaps a life insurance salesperson. Living in a mansion? High net worth and enjoying all the privileges that come along with it, such as that of being picky about the very finest restaurants or the ability to travel around the world.

Other people react to us in terms of what we have or appear to have. A girl's interest may perk up when she meets a guy with a sexy sports car. Showing up in a restaurant in an expensive suit may get the waiters to be more careful about the service and to expect a better tip.

Other less tangible things like an impressive resume that may open career doors. Having memberships in exclusive clubs may bring us connections that make it easy to get what we want because we know the "right" people.

So how do the things we have influence us? They put pressure on the way we act. Once admitted to a private club it does not take long to be and act like other members and to be very comfortable acting like the rest. By contrast, if we are visiting a church to please a friend, chances are we will be very cautious about all our movements. What can we conclude? In general, the things we have, whether they are material property or social connections, have an incredible influence on the way we walk through life.

Are we then nothing more than what our possessions have made us become? Is our true, authentic being nothing more than what we own and what we can do with what we own? Strange as it may seem, it may be true for most. In times of economic setbacks people begin to feel they are less when they have less. It explains why some who have lost most of their net worth jump off buildings. They assume that when their money is gone they no longer have value as human beings because money was all they respected and valued.

For those whose identity is nothing more than their economic reality, the loss of property means a loss of heart and soul. But for those who live authentically, the loss of what they have does not spell the end of a meaningful life because they were not just a construct of their possessions but rather an expression of their core being.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Personal Experience

The Parable of the Answering Machine

A man woke up one morning and wanted to start his day with making phone calls on his to-do-list. Surprise: No matter who he called, he got nothing more than an answering machine. As he went on his way he made every effort to start conversations, but no matter how hard he tried, he was unable to get beyond the usual "Hello, how are you--I am fine, how are you--Good-bye." He finished the day with an incredible feeling of isolation--Why, oh why can't I have a real response?

That night he awoke from a dream and in that dream, he was at a party. But no matter what he wanted to say, his own words sounded like a generic voice mail message. It was déjà vu – he heard himself saying the same things again and again and again. He thought: Am I nothing more than an answering machine? And are the people talking to me nothing more than voice mails set to an automatic response?

He went back to sleep. When he woke up again, he realized that his was a world of voice mails and answering machines. Everyone he heard and all that was said was prerecorded. It was a livable reality, comfortable, safe and secure as that of cattle grazing in a meadow.

And yet, it was not the peaceful, natural life of cows in a pasture. It was a robotic existence suspended in an electromechanical web of endless recorded messages.

He realized that his life had been little more than that dream, and that it was a dream he was saying good-bye to. He knew that now he was at the beginning of a journey of heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul communication.