There is a lot to unpack from one of the quickest 3 hour workshops I’ve been to in recent memory.
And though I can’t break down all of my takeaways from this afternoon at Yale FES, I wanted to start with where we started and where I ended.
As usual, it was a question:
What does it mean to be authentic?
I worked at a hotel in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province for 2+ years. At The Linden Centre, there was always talk of “the Real China” and/or experiences that were authentic.
This was always hard for me. Because of this same question:
What does it mean to be authentic?
Well, today I may have advanced my thoughts on this just a little bit.
By considering another question:
What does it mean to be inauthentic?
Many of us have ideas of what it means to be authentic. Based on my experience in Yunnan it’s a taste or a feeling of something that seems to be quite real.
Perhaps it’s something we haven’t experienced before.
Because, when you have had something “authentic” before, it sure feels hard to have something equally authentic again.
And so I have been exposed to more people thinking of authenticity as something exotic or fantastic rather than something as real as what’s in front of them on a regular basis. How could everyday life be authentic?
In my former case – how is everyday life in Beijing or Shanghai any less authentic than everyday life in Yunnan?
But when you re-frame the question to explore what is inauthentic, it’s very hard to argue one place being more or less authentic than the other. Provided everyone is being themselves.
I don’t exactly see Beijing pretending to be Shanghai any more than it would pretend to be Yunnan.
So when we re-frame that question to explore what’s inauthentic, it brings something quite different to me to the question of what is authentic.
Perhaps these opposites provide balance to the conversation. If we are to define what something is, then we need to define what it’s not. And by defining both, it enables us to come to greater clarity on what something is.
Given that our conversation was about authentic sustainability and now that we’ve established that definitions are good, one definition of sustainability used today was that attributed to John Ehrenfeld:
“Sustainability is the possibility of human and other life flourishing on earth forever.”
Sounds a bit hippy-esque, but essential it boils down to how people and other life forms can be awesome and at their best all the time and for all of time.
Stated in another way, sustainability is a pathway to planetary, organizational, and human flourishing.
As the conversation warmed up about how we understand and perceive authentic sustainability, we discussed as a group about conversations between people we labeled either as “effective” or “stuck” conversations.
And as we listed takeaway soundbites from the conversations around effective and stuck conversations we had with our neighbors, as a group we started to see the patterns where effective conversations were often when both sides focused on the mutual benefits.
Whereas in stuck conversations, there were always feelings and background conversations in our own heads that we were not dealing with openly that seemed to halt progress – often on both sides.
What really started to come out for me from there on out is that it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about sustainability or something else. The type of thinking we’re talking about with authenticity comes down to whether or not we’re ready to get real with ourselves because this has a major influence on how we relate to and interact with others.
My thinking started to drift into thinking about my authentic self. My relationships with others. How things were working and how things were not? What mattered to me and what mattered to another in this moment or that? I tried to bring a balance to both sides, both arguments, both thoughts, feelings, and words, in order to bring greater clarity to a particular situation from days gone by that was never resolved.
And I considered how I could have chosen to act – or react – differently.
One thing I realized over the course of today is that I can be quite emotional about the people and things I care most about.
And when it comes to those people and about those things, I am probably the least vocal about expressing my emotions.
I’ve never really admitted this to myself before.
And when I think of what I actually want out of life. It’s not to not communicate what I’m thinking and feeling, especially when it matters most.
This is an important part of who I am. When something matters, it matters. Holding that in doesn’t appropriately enable me to communicate to the people I care about or to others about the things I care about. And that was lost during my time in the dark.
Fortunately I came to realize that the only way for this to change is for me to more regularly express. Which is what this 60-days of writing has been about. Practicing expression. Being vulnerable with myself by opening myself up to these conversations with myself and with others.
But enough about me for the moment, how about you?
What is authenticity for you? What does it mean to be inauthentic?
What is the authenticity that you experience and appreciate?
Is there anything about your authentic self that you’re keeping locked away?
It might not be something you – or others close to you – even realize. But if you take some time to look, to listen to yourself, and to others, you may find something unexpected that might make you feel just a bit more sustainable i.e. fully and completely and extra alive.
i.e. an even better version of your best self.
Didn’t think it was possible?
Well, you’ll never know if you don’t take the time to look and listen.
Interested in more on Authentic Sustainability? Learn about Gabriel and Jason’s work here.