Authenticity and Pretense

Given the human inclination and desire to be acknowledged, accepted, and appreciated, it is not surprising that deceit is commonly employed to hide our true feelings and thoughts about other people, for if exposed, they would reveal our often critical, condescending, and competitive character that would tend to get us rejected by our fellows.

So it is that we find, especially in organizations where people must work together, that malicious thoughts are secretly harbored about others while a veneer of politeness, friendliness and cooperation is publicly presented. Few there are who consistently rise above the realm of the interpersonal to be issue-oriented, to address the work to be done rather than attending to the personalities of the participants. The popularity of gossip and personalization of issues as the focal point of media catering to the majority of individuals is both obvious and omnipresent in the world.

Even though it is well-known that the word person is derived from persona, which refers to the masks worn by theatrical performers, our willingness to suspend disbelief not just toward actors, but also toward family, friends, politicians and co-workers indicates that we do not understand the magnitude of the pretense carried out by most people most of the time. We allow ourselves to pretend that their outward expression accurately reflects their innermost feelings.

Therapists, of course, recognize that their clients are hiding many of their true feelings, even and most especially about the therapists themselves. The effectiveness of therapy depends in large part on the degree of trust that the patient develops toward the therapist so that he or she can freely identify, express and examine his or her covert, but importantly deterministic, thoughts and values. This means that although the therapist notices the foibles and ignorance presented by the patient, he or she allows no condemnatory or critical thoughts to be entertained in consciousness.

This writer once had a supervisor who promised that she would never lie to us, the lower-level employees and consultants. Right away, she became suspect and untrustworthy, for only one who would consider lying would publicly disavow the practice. An individual inclined toward honest communication would never need to abjure prevarication.

Pretense abounds, not merely in the trivial sense of the civil politeness that we adopt as a way of facilitating ordinary intercourse, but most especially in the negative notions we cherish about others while pretending to care about them. Compliments can be especially dangerous for our health, since we can be seduced into adopting a loftier attitude than is merited toward ourselves and those who deliver the praise.

It has been observed that effective communication can only occur between individuals who have a high regard for one another. Otherwise, matters and intentions get misconstrued and ill-will is generated. The glibness of a speaker is of no long-term avail, for as the anonymous oriental saying goes, “If the wrong man does the right thing, then the right thing works the wrong way; but if the right man does the wrong thing, then the wrong thing may work the right way.” It is the purity and wholesomeness of motive that determines the result.

Authenticity, in contrast to pretense, consists of being genuine, of meaning what we say and saying what we mean, of acknowledging what we know and what we don’t know, of forsaking judgment of others, and of seeking understanding. It refers specifically to one’s cherished thoughts and not to one’s outward behavior, because our esteemed values are what decide the quality of our perceptions and of our expressions.

In computer usage there is an acronym labeled WYSIWYG (pronounced whiz-e-wig), which stands for “what you see is what you get,” and is greatly appreciated because it enables us to know that what we are doing will produce the desired result. Similarly, in human affairs, authenticity is the key to a harmonious existence, and it requires that we also be alert to and not taken in by pretense amongst our fellows.