One of the things on my mind this week has been authenticity. I’m not talking about the providence of Grand Masters, which is the proper use of the word. I’m thinking more of the way it is often used now in language as a synonym for honesty. Except, and this is what I’ve been idly musing about, is that they are not really interchangeable. Related, yes, but there is more to being authentic then being honest.
Let me explain.
When someone tells me something and is authentic in the telling, there is something more than just telling me the truth. The truth – let us assume such thing exists, which is another discussion entirely – should be a matter of fact. In some cases it clearly is. If I have a broken leg, the truth is my mobility is going to be restricted for a while until it heals. The doctor telling me that can be honest, and that is probably all you would normally ask. But I think authenticity adds a different layer.
So let us assume I have a broken leg. I’ll confess up front that I don’t actually know what that feels like so apologise for any broken leg sufferers past and present. I’ve been incredibly lucky in that department, as the only piece of me I know I have broken was my nose, at 18, in my lest ever school rugby game when – unusually for me – I went rather too enthusiastically into a ruck and came out looking like I’d done a round with Tyson. Actually this is memorable in two ways – broken noses do not really hurt for long. What makes this memorable was on, the current physical evidence – by the time the nurse at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle got around to me the nose had already healed and, when he offered to re-break it in order to straighten it out my teenage cowardly teenage self quickly declined the generous offer, hence it is wonky to this day. Secondly is the experience of sitting for ages in A&E in what was a white shirt and shorts, covered in dried blood. Not a pretty sight and needless to say I had plenty of space to sit by myself on those hard plastic chairs beloved of all institutions.
Back to the broken leg scenario, and the doctor can tell me in a number of ways that my hopes to compete in the Winter Olympics (hey, fantasising) in a month’s time are now over. He can tell me honestly, because the facts are clear. I will feel awful. The fact I know he is right does not – at this point at least – help me at all. Surely, I think, there must be some new stem cell treatment that can allow me to keep a hold on my dreams of international stardom?
I suspect the pain in my heart might be more than any in my leg.
Or, he can tell me the facts and pitch it differently and say ‘I’ve racked my brains for anything we can do to make it heal faster, but we just can’t. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry you won’t be able to compete.’
Let us assume he looks me in the eye and I’m convinced he’s not the biggest liar since the two robots tried to convince me that ‘Smash’ tasted better than real mashed potatoes.
I am going to feel better about the bad stuff because as well as being honest, there is some emotion in there. That is where I personally feely authenticity wins. When you give bad news and there is no way of avoiding it you need to recognise how the receiver feels, and if possible show how you too are emotionally affected by whatever it is. In a recent work presentation a difficult message was made much more palatable by the deliverer showing how passionate he was about what had to happen, how he understood how we felt and how he felt it too. Being open to the emotional aspect is very hard, and some people are going to hate you whatever you say. But they are going to hate you anyway, so take the hit and recognise that by putting yourself on the line you are going to take a fair number of them with you, who would not have done so if you had just been ‘honest’.