I was having a conversation with a group of women about the need to use our speech for only positive purposes – to bring healing and kindness to the world and not the other way around. Everyone understood the idea (like most Jewish ideas, it’s not complicated to understand, just hard to apply!) but we all recognized how tough this is to implement with our family.
Family members push our buttons like no one else. There is baggage, there is history. There is jealousy and competition. But the issue that concerned the group the most was this: “Isn’t it inauthentic to bottle up all your frustrations, to not express them?”
Before I answer the question, let me just clarify. There are obviously serious situations that require conversation, that need to be addressed. There may be frustration and even anger but we all know that the most effective and productive way to approach those struggles is with love and calm. (Wait until you feel both before beginning!)
Back to the question. Yes, it is inauthentic – and it is a lot nicer. Who said that being authentic is always a high moral virtue? If we have to choose between being inauthentic and kind or authentic and nasty, I would go with inauthentic every time. Of course the goal is that the “nicer, kinder me” won’t always be inauthentic, that if I practice behaving that way, ultimately that will be the real me! But in the meantime I should keep my unpleasant thoughts to myself.
Do we really want to hear every negative thought our husband may harbor about us (yes, ladies, if you have some about him, he has some about you too!)? Do we want our friends to tell us how awful they really think our haircut is, how unflattering that new dress actually is, that they notice those extra pounds? And do we want our (oh so well-meaning) mothers to let us know what they think of our character and behavior?
If you said yes to any of the above, you’re either supremely self-confident or a masochist!
We don’t need to suppress our personality, our hopes, our dreams to conform to someone else’s vision of us. That may be the concern of those who elevate authenticity to an aspiration. But we do want to suppress our negative thoughts and comments – with the goal of eliminating them altogether. We want to be kind, thoughtful, sensitive, considerate.
For most of us, those character traits don’t come naturally. We need to work on them. And this process involves not saying everything that’s on our mind. Again, I don’t mean that we never discuss the big issues, discuss being the operative word. I mean that we are careful about defining what the big issues are.
We don’t build relationships through attacking; we build them through complimenting and appreciating.
They are not the little daily frustrations that leave us constantly snapping at those we love and undermining those relationships. As I told my husband last night when explaining the class, I never complain that he leaves the coaster for his coffee cup out on the table every morning! I never complain that he doesn’t open the blinds, make the bed, straighten the towels…you know the drill. And I’m sure he has his own list. And those are the really trivial things. (Aren’t they all, or at least most of them?) We don’t build relationships through attacking; we build them through complimenting, through appreciating, through expressions and love and gratitude, caring and concern.
It may not be popular, but if my authentic self is going to say or do something unkind, then I’m in favor of being inauthentic any day.