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  • Writer's pictureStarlene Justice

AUTHENTICITY is the Root of Integrity

Humans are social creatures, molded and shaped by their family, their culture, and their personal and professional associations. Without each other, we simply cannot survive, and so we are born seeking human interaction and validation. We have very few natural instincts (many of which are underdeveloped), and we have a longer period than most species of vulnerability. It takes us nearly a full year to learn to walk (some species can run on the day of their birth), we don’t speak until several more years have passed, and we don’t have a prayer of functioning on our own until somewhere between 12 and 15 years of age. What this means, effectively, is that we are dependent on our social circle for our survival, and we therefore contrive all manner of ways to fit in to our “tribe” and not be rejected. Owning our unique talents, embracing our full range of qualities, and seeking out our most personal desires and preferences is not necessarily a priority.

Authenticity gets outranked by vulnerability—especially for those who have had to struggle, at any point, to simply survive.

And yet, there is also something in the human “tribe” that recognizes the need to celebrate each facet of an individual’s personality. Beyond simple survival, embracing all our qualities will help us thrive, and evolve, and become more fully human—that which does not need instincts to survive, but which can choose the form and substance of its own existence, and help others do the same.

As parents, we seem to have an awareness of this because we delight in discovering the things that make our children unique. Even their troubling qualities can be re-framed in a positive light. What might be described as “stubbornness” can just as easily be characterized as a “strong will.” The former is a liability while the latter is a wonderful personality characteristic that can serve them well.

Embracing our authenticity is predicated on the belief that who we are is intrinsically of value, and our social circle can encourage or stifle this belief. Effective parents often know how to encourage it, but that doesn’t mean that once a child broadens his or her social circle, they won’t be inclined to subvert parts of their authentic selves in the hopes of “fitting in” better. Of course, it isn’t just our social circle that can cause us to (more or less) disown parts of our own being; it can result from the experience of pain, injury, and vulnerability, as well.

For instance, if you were a high-energy child, intensely curious about everything, and inclined to act on every impulse in an effort to understand and conquer your world, you may have discovered that these tendencies yielded admonishment from adults, or even punishment. In order to “survive” in certain structured environments (like school), you had to learn to “conquer” or subvert those tendencies. The result of this would be a disconnect with your preferred method of learning and growing, as well as a sense that your natural personality and way-of-being is somehow less-preferred by society, or even outright “wrong.” Those would be the “social implications,” but even without these, being impulsive and adventurous could lead to physically dangerous situations, the result of which could also stifle those inherent tendencies—which is not all bad, to be sure, but not all good, either.

In my own case, I was born with an inordinately intense love for animals, which also became the source of much pain in my life. As a result, I developed a kind of resentment toward this part of my self and wished it away vigorously. After the birth of my first child, that soft place at my center deepened and widened, and I felt weak and exposed. To have such depth of feeling for anything seemed horribly dangerous, and I wanted to “steel” my heart and soul against the inevitable pain that would result from this level of sensitivity. I equated being “tender-hearted” with being out of control and vulnerable. I didn’t know how to change it, but I was also not willing to accept or appreciate it, as if I had somehow come to believe that the pain (or even the potential pain) of this characteristic negated all the joy that it also brought.

Over time, I came to understand that to dis-integrate myself by rejecting crucial aspects of my personality was harmful (and those who are able to do it utterly, or who are born with certain “sensitivities” turned completely off, are considered sociopathic). I consciously decided to re-frame my “liability” as an “asset” instead.

Indeed, this was actually the case.

My tender-heartedness was part of what made me slow to judge, what made me conscientious, empathetic, and compassionate, what made me believe that awareness, and joy, and suffering were not limited to human beings, but encompassed many beings. And this led to a “wholesome” perspective; a feeling of being connected to all things, not just human things. Certainly, this perspective has served me well as a teacher, as a writer, as a mother, and as a steward of our planet.

There is, too, the acceptance, the hope, the soothing that is wrought in understanding that joy is the other side of pain, triumph the other side of tragedy, gain the other side of loss. The yin and the yang. The light that shines more brilliantly because of the experience of darkness.

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” ~Rumi

Authenticity, therefore, is integration; the combining of all your separate, unique elements into a meaningful, complete, whole person. To reject a part of yourself is to dis-integrate yourself. Disintegrate. That is where the word comes from. And note, also, that the word “integrity” has “integrate” as its root. Two meanings are listed in the dictionary under “integrity:”

1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.

2. the state of being whole and undivided

I believe it is the latter that helps create the former and that, without being “whole and undivided,” one would be hard-pressed to have strong moral principles. They go together, because our integrity springs from our character, and the development of our character is predicated on knowing ourselves well, and knowing how to integrate and manage all our disparate parts.

Notice that I said “manage,” and I think that is what I am doing when I re-frame what feels to me like a hopeless vulnerability into a potential fountain of strength and compassion. If there are things about yourself that you do not like, it may be helpful to drill down a little deeper on those things. What is causing you to manifest those traits? What is at the root of these characteristics? Can you find some way to re-frame them as “assets” instead?

For example, something like “easily angered” can be turned into “passionate,”—which can be a good thing under the right circumstances, and when directed properly. “Insecure” may not be so much a personality trait as it is a learned response based on prior experiences that may have been guided by “sensitivities.” Often, sensitive people are insecure because they are bombarded by stimuli that others may never even notice. Sometimes, “angry” people are that way because they have allowed themselves to feel victimized by the traits they were born with. “I am angry that I must deal with insecurities and sensitivities!” This sort of response encourages dis-integration of our selves.

Bringing awareness to your sensitivity and addressing your reactions to circumstances based on that understanding, is a better tactic than beating yourself up or railing against the fates.

It all comes back to the framework in which you place your experiences—the paradigm you look at the world from. Believing that the unique traits you were born with are valuable, useful, and meaningful will allow you to conscientiously (even joyfully) integrate them into your life. As you embody a higher level of integration and authenticity, people will be drawn to you, they will trust you, and they will wish to emulate you. They will see you as having integrity. Don’t disown who you are; seek it out, re-frame it if it helps, embrace it, and share it with the world.

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