I recently left my 9- 5 so I could read a novel all day, and not feel guilty. I consider myself to be on a journey to find authenticity, and this is my yardstick, my measure; I will know I have reached my destination when I read a novel in the middle of the day- not a holiday- without feeling guilty.
Dictionary.com defines ‘Authentic’ as “representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified.” I like to focus on the first part, authenticity in relation to oneself. To represent one’s true nature or beliefs presupposes that we know who we are; who we are supposed to be. Self-awareness however, is high up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and many people in our part of the world are still largely preoccupied with physiological and other basic concerns. Besides, self-awareness is a shifting target, is it not?
Pause for a minute. Think about the kind of music you like; have you always liked it? Why do you like it? Do you really like it, or were you conditioned to like it? My cousin came to live with us when I was 10. He introduced me to Rick Dees and Goo Goo dolls. Since then, I can throw down on a Jay Z track any day, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Soft Rock and Alternative. I do wonder however, if Nwabueze had not come to live with us, if I would know the words to Iris or instead be a Rihanna stan- not that the two are mutually exclusive. Is my true self then a rock head? Or was I conditioned to be so? Still on music, I find that I have recently gravitated significantly towards soul, neo-soul and jazz. So, is my true self a Rock Head, Rap head or Jazz Head? Or perhaps I’m multi-headed?
I also wonder if authenticity is subject to morality. Can Hitler argue that he was authentic? Fully committed to representing his true nature and beliefs? Bin Laden? Did they not honestly believe that they were representing their true selves/beliefs?
I definitely think being authentic is relative to time. Recently, I read a piece I wrote in 2011, and I wanted to reach back in time and smack me upside my multi-head. My views had shifted so significantly since the piece that I was quite tempted to delete it altogether. But I left it. To remind myself to be open to, and accepting of my own evolution. This being open is one of the ways I define authenticity. To be able to recognise and acknowledge a shift in ones views when they happen, regardless of how they happen- whether insidiously, or through confrontation with a superior argument- as opposed to staying stuck in a place because it’s seemingly ‘authentic’.
Authenticity is not thick braids and wooden clogs. It’s not bantu knots and dashikis. It is also not weaves and high heels. Authenticity is weaves if you feel like it and bantu knots when you do. Being authentic is not being a certain way. It’s not dressing, speaking or behaving in a particular manner. Being authentic is not a prison, no. It is indeed a freedom you must protect yourself with. It is owning who you are per time, while allowing other people to be who they are. It is subjecting the current version of yourself to the pain of openness -within the bounds of your values- and the evolution that comes with it.
I recently read a novel for the most part of a day. I felt guilty initially because my mind tried to remind of all the ‘more important’ things I could be doing with that time. But I stayed the cause and pushed though the guilt; it was the best 6 hours I have had in eons.
Published originally on Akoma. Akoma is a community of creators, influencers, storytellers
and audiences sharing diverse narratives on Africa and its diaspora.