Are You Fake or Authentic?

Jul 04, 2024

The Merriam-Webster word of the year 2023 is “authentic”, which means it was the most looked-up word on the Merriam-Webster online dictionary in 2023. Here’s what Merriam-Webster said about it:

“A high-volume lookup most years, authentic saw a substantial increase in 2023, driven by stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media… 

Authentic has a number of meanings including ‘not false or imitation,’ a synonym of  real and actual; and also ‘true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.’”

The world is starving for authenticity, thanks largely to social media. Social media at its simplest, describes platforms where users share and react to user-made content. Today, social media has become an opportunity for anyone to gain attention and recognition from the masses, and has therefore become a giant competition. To achieve a following on social media, you must make content that is highly engaging in some way, content that people like watching. This created social media stars that are more persona than people and their fame encourages everyone watching to be more like them. As a result, identity has become more performative and shallow, facts harder to come by, and genuine human connection alarmingly rare. 

We are starting to feel the lack and have turned on the searchlights for authenticity with things like the “BeReal” app, the “Instagram vs. Reality” trend, and the increased scrutiny of brands and celebrities. BeReal has over 21.6 million monthly users, there are 453 thousand videos posted under the Instagram hashtag “instagramvsreality”, and criticizing celebrity behavior has become a hugely popular trend across all social media sites and especially on Youtube.

When we add things like advertisements, movies, T.V. shows, and artificial intelligence, the authenticity problem gets even bigger. The bad news is that the issue is widespread and there is no easy solution. The good news is that we as individuals can create and encourage authenticity for our individual lives despite societal disingenuousness. 

It has become a habit for most of us to merely skim the surface in relationships instead of diving deeper to create lasting connections. We small talk, judge, and put on social masks to protect our vulnerabilities (in an attempt to look more like the social media star standard). This leaves us feeling lonely no matter how many people we talk to and regardless of the amount of interaction our Facebook posts get. Wearing those picture-perfect “masks” makes true connection next to impossible. Authenticity comes when we set aside the masks and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

What does authenticity look like?

Our emotions influence our beliefs and our beliefs influence how we perceive our identity. Taking a close look at how we handle and apply emotions in our lives can help us be more authentic. In short, our emotions are what lead the way to authenticity.

Authentic Emotions are behaviors that shape us and our relationships in healthy ways. They connect, move us forward, are motivated by love and surrender, and reinforce our divine worth.

Counterfeit Emotions are behaviors that can be harmful to our mental/emotional health and relationships. They divide and isolate, stunt progress, are motivated by fear, and attack our self-worth.

For example, Empathy is an authentic emotion and its counterpart (the counterfeit emotion) is Sympathy.

Empathy is understanding the experience of another person and feeling it with them. 

Sympathy is feeling sorry that someone is experiencing something and often prompts a show of support. 

Empathy is without masks, it goes hand in hand with vulnerability– that’s what makes it so authentic and so good at connecting people. Empathy is the act of shedding judgment and replacing it with love. When we feel empathy for someone, we sit with them in their pain.

Sympathy, while still supportive, allows the masks to remain in place. If empathy is sitting with someone in their pain, sympathy is watching from the sidelines. You still acknowledge the pain that they are feeling, but you don’t reciprocate their vulnerability.

The key word here is vulnerability. Vulnerability is what authenticity is made of.

Authenticity is vulnerability

Recently, I gave a presentation on living authentically, during which I was very open about some damaging choices I had made in the past. I wanted to be authentic and allow my audience to see my humanity instead of a polished mask. Afterward, a man confided in me, telling me about painful experiences from his own past. He told me “I have never shared this with anyone, but I feel completely safe saying it to you.” My vulnerability created a space free from judgment and full of acceptance and granted me the gift of connecting with the people there on a deeper level.

Vulnerability is the bullet train to connection, because when we are vulnerable, it gives other people permission to be open as well. 

The first step to inviting more authenticity into our lives is being more vulnerable ourselves.


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