The Danger of Authenticity
Recently, while checking into a hotel, I was making small talk with the person behind the counter. While she was finding my reservation, I casually asked her, "How's your day going?"
She responded with, "Well, I really don't want to be here!" and then muttered something under her breath.
I asked the question, but certainly wasn't expecting that answer. I guess she was just being authentic.
The brutal cost of undiscerning honesty
What would your life look like if you were absolutely honest with everyone? How would you respond when your friend asks you if you think she's fat (and she has put on a few pounds)? Or what would be your honest words the moment your husband finds out he got passed over for a promotion? Or your children asked if you had a favorite child?
In today's culture, there is a lot of emphasis on "being authentic"—just saying it like it is. I understand why we feel so strongly about the quality of being forthright. Our parents' and grandparents' generations, at times, harbored family secrets, made "polite" comments that compromised truth, and shied away from discussing anything unpleasant. Sometimes we Christians are guilty of backing away from truths that desperately need to be spoken. But just as often, we speak the "authentic" truth without the discernment and love that should distinguish us as Jesus' disciples. Being truthful is different than being brutally honest. There are a lot of hurtful and destructive things said in the guise of authenticity.
The qualification that we are being honest or authentic doesn't give us license to say whatever comes to mind. After all, Jesus didn't run around blurting out everything that was true. While he was never deceitful, Jesus sometimes intentionally withheld truth because he knew that the audience wasn't ready to hear it. He knew when to speak a harsh rebuke and when to be silent.
Evaluate your "authenticity"
Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that the tongue—our words—wields the power of both life and death. Let me ask you a few tough but discerning questions to help you determine how you are using the power of your tongue:
- Do you listen more than you talk? All the emphasis on authenticity seems to be focused on what we say. However, the most intimate conversations are usually prompted by someone choosing to authentically listen. I have found that many people seek counseling simply because they are desperate for someone to listen and validate their experience. If you long for deeper intimacy, start by becoming a great listener—someone who truly cares about the heart of other people.
Juli Slattery is a widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional. She co-founded Authentic Intimacy (www.authenticintimacy.com) and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?