Radical honesty is overrated
You won't find the truth just waiting inside of you.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
― Oscar Wilde,
People talk a lot about "authenticity," but I think the word is often misused. Those writers who often extol the virtue of authenticity tend to write unexpurgated, confessional pieces about their innermost thoughts. This was a really popular style of writing in women's magazines like XOJane. If you've been on the Internet long enough you've probably read articles about women taking stimulants to get skinny, sleeping with their estranged fathers, or becoming a prostitute because they needed a little extra cash.
But authenticity isn't the same as removing a filter. Because underneath the filter doesn't lie truth. It's just a human mess, a factory of thoughts bubbling up from unknown processes. I'm sure we've all known a person who brags about their "honesty" but is really just kind of an asshole. The thing is, that person usually does believe they're honest. But their "honesty" is just a removal of a filter without any real cultivation. They've mistaken an unbidden, negative observation for some uncovering of the truth.
But just because some deep, subconscious goblin voice tells you "That barista is ugly," or "your girlfriend doesn't actually love you," doesn't necessarily mean it's true.
The truth doesn't live inside of you, pure and unblemished. In the same way that Chopin didn't sit down at the piano and immediately compose a masterpiece. He had to master his craft. He had to cultivate his skill. He had to hit wrong notes, over and over again, until he found the right ones. None of us have unfiltered access to universal mastery of authenticity. It requires work.
It's something that must not only be found, but cultivated. Truth isn't just the way that hydrogen and oxygen bind together to make water. It's the rocket ship we built to go into space. It's the cities we erected on the earth. It's the computers we built to reach across digital lines to touch each other.
That asshole friend who "tells it like it is," isn't telling the unvarnished truth. He's cultivated himself into a cruel person who has given primacy to his cruel thoughts, above all others. I rarely hear people bragging about being "honest" who have mostly kind things to say about people. But these kind things are not any less true than the cruel ones. It’s just those people have turned themselves into vehicles of a single voice inside of them that they’ve mistaken for God.
Authenticity is not just honesty, it's also a choice.
Every week I write non-fiction in this newsletter, but I don't consider my writing confessional. I don't like to go into details about my family or sex life. There are personal details I don't want to share with anyone, and it's not because I'm afraid or their truth is somehow hidden from me. I just prefer to keep a little mystery, that's all. Sexiness tends to dissolve in bare mad lighting.
And you'll never get closer to the truth no matter how closely you describe the pores on the legs of your last lover. Just like you can’t go over and over your past, searching through every detail, and expect it to heal your present self. You’ve gained no real insight under the naval-gazing microscope of self indulgence. All you have is a description.
Authenticity isn't just description. It's analysis. It's craft. And the truth doesn't always come by describing, in a perfect one to one correlation, what reality is.
It's also what reality could be.
Or like a good piece of fiction, it's a light of perception that shines through a world that never existed.
And when you create it, you’ll know. You’ll feel it resonating with everything in nature, and everything inside of you. And other people will see it too, even if they want to deny it. The truth always fits perfectly, with no rough angles or missing edges. It is eternal. It is what is and what will always be.