Anxiety, Authenticity, Courage, Freedom, Introversion

Authority vs. Authenticity

I recently enrolled in a workshop called “Claim Your Voice.” As an introvert, my tendency towards formulating a response and finding accurate words sometimes trump instantaneous communication. Fast-moving conversations often drown out my voice, or people misinterpret my pause as meaning that I have nothing to say, so I am overlooked. By the time I’ve figured out what to contribute, the conversation has already zig-zagged to another topic. Or, fearful of how others might react to what’s really on my mind, or not wishing to be interrupted or steamrolled as I carefully get the words out, I might refrain from saying anything at all. Having endured the agony of my own silence for longer than I care to admit, I want to learn how to speak more boldly and directly without sending my central nervous system into a complete freak out or freaking out others with an unanticipated outburst of emotion. In our culture, tears and strong feelings are not frequently well-received.

In a conversation with my mother, while searching for a succinct way to describe my motivation for taking this class, she said something like, “It’s about learning to sound like an authority.”  She delivered this statement in what I’d consider an authoritative tone, as if she had hit upon the answer, case closed. If there was one thing members of my frequently argumentative family of origin agreed upon, it was that it was important to have the “right” answer. For years that legacy drove a lot of my choices about how to express myself. I wanted to project an image of being knowledgeable and avoid feeling the shame of “not knowing”.

There can be something satisfying and relieving about believing we have an answer; it brings a sense of certainty we can hang our identities on, at least for that moment. With matters factual and logistical, it’s useful to have an answer. But in matters personal, philosophical or existential, clinging to an answer, especially if it ceases being true, or starts to feel like an ill-fitting coat, can often stifle curiosity or other possibilities that might arise in an exploration or inquiry. Live the questions now, urged poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Sometimes that feels like navigating an ocean in a rowboat, periodically overtaken if not capsized by waves of doubt.

“No,” I said, noticing a contraction in my sternum. “Claiming your voice is about learning to speak authentically.”

The conversation moved on from there, but writing offers an opportunity to hit the rewind button and explore what might have been a sticky, definitional point, to find the precise words that eluded me in that moment. Our culture is filled with authority figures and people who speak authoritatively (these are not necessarily the same). From the political bloviators to weathermen confidently delivering inaccurate forecasts, we can easily be lulled into believing that “authoritative” = “correct”. That young part of us, longing for an omniscient and protective parent to explain a confusing world with “the answer”, can be fooled by someone who appears to know what they are talking about, then disappointed or outraged when what they said turns out to be untrue. In a society that prizes certainty over vulnerability, winning over partnership, people are often more inclined to vote for, follow or support individuals with a clear message than someone who expresses doubt or a more nuanced or humble view.

Authentic communicators, those who risk sharing their truth and revealing their humanness, do so in the service of connection, not competition. It’s a way of interacting that’s unfamiliar or uncomfortable to many of us, but is slowly gaining ground through the efforts of people like vulnerability researcher Brené Brown (see her TED talk here). The sensation of our pulse pounding, palms sweating and throat closing can be so excruciating that we back off from what we are trying to say, swallowing our truth out of fear of being shamed, ignored or confronted by another person’s silence or inability to listen.

Authenticity can be as delicate as authority is ironclad, and the most moving communicators often combine both. An authoritative speaker who also reveals their personal stake or deep passion is more likely to connect with audiences and persuade them of her point of view. Someone who can share their truth from a place of inner authority (or self knowing), without needing validation, inspires. In the first session of “Claim Your Voice”, we spent a lot of time doing breathing exercises and other foundational practices for truth-telling.

“Eventually, your breath will carry your message,” said the instructor. I imagined my words as migratory birds, propelled by a powerful current toward home. It’s up to me to launch them wholeheartedly and to trust that they will land.

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About ilona fried

Writer, Feldenkrais trainee, and explorer of internal and external landscapes.

Discussion

7 thoughts on “Authority vs. Authenticity

  1. Nice post I’m now watching the video!!Love, J

    Posted by Jesse Fried | October 27, 2013, 2:18 pm
  2. I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with
    the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.

    Posted by maillot de foot | November 2, 2013, 7:27 am

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