One of the biggest impediments to human associations is the unwillingness to say what you think and ask for what you want. Note the word “ask”; no one is entitled to anything from another person simply because he or she wants it. We are entitled to make the request, but that person is equally entitled to say no. And this applies not only to strangers, but to family and loved ones as well.
If I ask somebody for something, I’m counting on one very important thing: If they say they’re willing to do it, then they mean it. We’re all entitled to this authenticity from others. But sadly, most of the time we don’t get it. This doesn’t mean that most people are willfully malicious and seek to lie, but the unfortunate lack of authenticity can definitely lead to problems. It’s actually a form of lying, even if you don’t have malicious intentions. Like regular lying, the creation of one inauthentic statement leads to creating others in order to disguise the inauthenticity of the first, therefore heaping lie upon lie. For example, “Oh, I love doing that with you. Let’s do it again sometime.” The truth might be different: “Good God, I hope I don’t have to do that again.” And then wouldn’t you know it, you’re invited to do the same thing again! You dug this hole all by yourself.
You might sometimes run into passive-aggressive behavior where a person says they want to do something, or that they like something, but their actions suggest the total opposite. And wouldn’t you know it: They fail to show up, or they show up late, or they seem half-hearted about the whole thing. Usually the best way to handle these situations is to say, in one form or another, “Please be straight with me. I’m OK with what you say. Just be honest. That’s the only way we can resolve this.” I call it the “invitation to authenticity,” and it applies to every kind of relationship and association from the most intimate to even the most distant and professional.
People might say this is risky. “I can be authentic, even in a calm and diplomatic way. But the truth sometimes hurts and I’ll lose people over it.” OK. So what? If you lose somebody because they discover something about you that they don’t like, but it’s something you like just fine, then why not lose them? It’s OK to lose people, especially when keeping them in your life would necessitate constant misrepresentation on one or both of your parts.
The truth always works even when it hurts. If somebody rejects you for something you’re proud of, then you don’t want that person anyway. If somebody rejects you for something you’re ashamed of, then it’s something you should have been calling to your attention in the first place. By rejecting you for it, that authentic person did you a favor. Yes, the truth can hurt, but hurting is not necessarily bad! Hurting is often how we grow to get to a place where we’re stronger and can hurt less.
Running from the truth, with ourselves or others, is what creates the buildup in stress, anxiety, depression, and all the other things psychology and psychiatry talk about and attempt to treat. Inauthenticity is a game that takes too much work, and ultimately it can be destructive.
One caveat: I am not saying that in order to be real that you go out of your way to give unappreciated advice or tell people things about which you have not been asked. That’s just plain rude and is not my point. What I mean by “being real” is never saying or doing anything that isn’t part of your authentic self. You don’t have to impose yourself on others, but you don’t have to fake it, either. Not faking: That’s my point.
If you promise yourself to always keep it real in your relationships, you might lose some people along the way. But the ones you keep will be the most valuable. And your self-respect will shine even brighter.