Secrecy, Authenticity and Community
A discussion came up in class today about a question I’ve been pondering for the last month or two. It’s a pretty straightforward issue: living with authenticity, being who you really are, taking “what you see is what you get” as a motto for life. The tough part is gauging how rigorously to apply this value to our daily lives. I’m not talking about speaking your mind, a virtue only virtuous in the eyes of those tactless enough to practice it. I’m talking about how we live, especially how we present ourselves to other people. To what extent should transparency characterize our lives? Here’s the answer I’m inclined toward: more than it usually does.
We all appreciate authenticity in others, and most of us value it as an abstract virtue. But it seems that we all tend more toward secrecy than openness, at least in areas or with people that really matter. It’s like a gloomy gravity of the soul, this pull toward isolation that is universal among us. And since we weren’t made to be alone, we hate it. But often our drift apart is so subtle and happens at such a deep level in our soul, we can’t even put our finger on the problem. Sometimes our whole life just feels wrong, even though most what we can see (family, career, etc.) looks like it should make us pretty happy.
Perhaps this partly explains the burgeoning phenomenon of internet friendships: a feeling of community without the risks of authenticity. I have heard that genuine friendships really can be formed on the Web, and so I don’t want to speak in universal terms here. But I can’t help but suspect that the internet offers an environment that fosters an insincere and contrived kind of connectedness, a mere shadow of the real thing our hearts were made to know. It seems like it would be far too easy to hide the most painful, embarrassing parts of ourselves and thus to forfeit the sense of community that comes from true authenticity. Or, when we’ve been totally honest about who we are, we can just disregard the more critical responses from our internet “friends,” because they don’t really matter to us anyway.
Anyway, as I’ve already implied, I think authenticity is vital because genuine community is impossible without it, and we were made to be in community with other people. One of the most significant parts of the Creation story is what it teaches us about how our souls work. It’s a really cool story, too. God creates Adam and gives him his marching orders: have lots of kids, manage the creation, watch out for that one tree. For the earliest hours of human existence though, Adam is entirely on his own. God comments on the problem first: “It is not good for this guy to be alone.” But before He brings Eve along, He gives Adam his first creation-management responsibility: name all the animals. As every species of bird and critter saunters by, Adam comes up with a label that fits: “OK, those are hyenas. Um… we’ll call you guys ‘elephants.’ Those really slow ones are sloths.” Here’s the actual account from the Bible: “The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” (Gen 2:20)
Did you notice that last sentence? It’s significant. “For Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” Since God already commented on that point a couple verses earlier, I think this verse describes Adam’s realization of it. Remember that thing about naming all the animals? Imagine the scene. Adam has seen every critter in the garden, and every one of them trotted or slithered or soared or crawled by... in couples! Every animal had a companion, a perfect match. And so he’s like, “Dude! Where’s mine?” One nap later, he’s laying eyes on Eve for the first time. Isn’t it awesome that the first recorded human words are a love poem?! He sings out: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen 2:23)
Interestingly, medieval art depicting the Fall has Adam on one side of the tree with Eve on the other. It’s a poignant illustration of the isolation sin always causes. God created us to be in open, honest relationships; Satan seeks to get us hidden and alone. In fact, even God isn’t secret in any of His ways since He exists eternally as three persons in one. Nothing hidden; perfect community. Maybe the doctrine of the Trinity actually has some application to our lives after all!
Listen to this evaluation from author and Christian counselor Larry Crabb: “I have come to believe that the root of all our personal and emotional difficulties is a lack of togetherness, a failure to connect that keeps us from receiving life and prevents the life in us from spilling over onto others. I therefore believe that the surest route to overcoming problems and becoming the people we were meant to be is reconnecting with God and with our community.” (Connecting) Those are some pretty lofty promises, but I’m coming to believe that he just might be correct.
To what extent should transparency characterize our lives? More than it usually does. Take a hard look at your own life. How much energy do you exert maintaining a façade? Do you have secrets that you’d be mortified for your most respected friends to learn? Are you two or three or four different people, depending on where you are and who you’re with? Does anyone know the real you?
When I saw The Incredibles a few months back, I pondered what superpowers I would like to have. I have a hard time narrowing down the list, but I can promise you one ability that I don’t think any one of us needs: invisibility.
Want to be what God intended? Get real.
Monday, January 10, 2005
Secrecy, Authenticity and Community
Posted by Josh at 3:35 PM