I hear it a lot these days, that desire for the authentic, whether it be the local restaurant, the hope for a different kind of politician or simply a way of life. I think it comes from the disturbing legacy of years when what is spoken bears no relation to actuality. We are bombarded by soundbites seeking to gain our approval or Facebook ‘like’ but faced with a reality that lets us down at every turn. Recent events in my country of birth, where the momentous decision to leave the EU was effected by a simple majority were beleaguered by campaigns on both sides full of misrepresentation. It now transpires that much was entirely inauthentic in substance, especially from those who advocated leave.
In the US we have seen the rise of Trump and a surprising surge of support for the unconventional champion of the downtrodden in Bernie Sanders. Although Mr Sanders was unable to gain the presidential nomination, we now discover he was hampered by the Democratic establishment skewing the support of the party towards his opponent. Despite this, his revolution has attracted the support of millions of Americans looking for that elusive ‘authentic’ politician. You may be surprised to hear me say this, but Messrs Trump and Sanders have a lot in common. Though representing 2 very different constituencies, what they have sought to do is appeal to the disillusioned with a message that cuts to the heart of their supporters’ fears and disenchantment.
Those who have thrown their considerable support behind Mr Trump are fed up with the established Republican cadre and rally to his entirely authentic voicing of their own thoughts and leanings. Sadly, there are many people fearful of the ‘other’ be it the muslim immigrant who poses an existential terror threat or the immigrant from the south who comes to steal their living. Something resonates in the anti-establishment railings and bombastic confidence that he can and will do things differently simply because he is not an established politician. From a completely different perspective, Mr Sanders appeals to those who feel threatened BECAUSE they are ‘other’. They are looking for someone who will genuinely fight for them, protect them from the elite power brokers who seem to have the establishment politicians in their pockets. They are fed up with being fobbed off as their net worth and standing falls in the wake of powerful oligarchs taking and controlling more and more of the available wealth. The call to do something about bankers responsible for almost destroying the world economy or the oil companies destroying the environment is highly attractive to those who feel without any power of influence.
Personally, I am also attracted to what I feel to be authentic, but as I mused on the subject, I began to feel deeply challenged. You see, the thing is, we are relying on someone else to wave their authentic magic wand and deal with the injustice, the fear or the dissatisfaction we feel with the way things are. But if I want authentic, then what am I doing to achieve it in my own life, relationships, work and environment. If I really don’t want the environment to be destroyed, am I making appropriate choices in what I drive, how I manage my consumption, how I dispose of my waste etc. If I wish there were more ‘authentic’ natural places to eat then am I making the extra effort to support those who purvey such fair? If I disapprove of the way workers are treated in garment factories in Bangladesh, do I purposely seek out clothes that are not manufactured in such places? Do I bother to withdraw my relatively small amount of wealth from the institutions that have proven financial mismanagement and deposit them with those who demonstrate more honesty in their dealings?
In the end, if we seek authenticity, then I feel we should first seek it in our own lives rather than looking for someone else to do it for us. If I want to see change in the world around me, the people I have a relationship with, the church I belong too, the neighborhood I live in, then it starts with me. Am I really serious about living an authentic life. In other words, am I willing to make the sacrifice necessary to line up what I really believe with the way in which I live my life. Big question, big challenge!