Authenticity in quotation marks


“Authenticity” is the word du jour. It is used in a wide variety of contexts to mean “honest” or “non-artificial”, or something like  “eschewing glamour”, “homely” or “rustic”.

I use it here on this blog too, and particularly in relation to women. When I’m using it, I mean something very different to “honest” or any of the other popular meanings.

I mean something that doesn’t exist.


Every day, we are inventing ways of being.

We say things to ourselves such as “I’m sensitive”, “I’m hopeless with money”, “I’m lucky”, “I’m good in emergencies”, “I’m an architect”, “I’m a lousy cook”, “I’m a passionate gardener”, “I’m a father”, “I’m honest”, “Parties make me uncomfortable”, “I’ve always been terrible at mathematics”, “I’m a mother”, “I’m a son”, and so on.

There are several things to note about this phenomenon.

Old means nothing

Just because a way of being has been around for decades does not mean we’re not inventing it afresh every day.

I have a friend called Mary who somewhere along the track when she was a child picked up the way of being she called “Airy-Fairy Mary”. Decades on, every time she thought of herself in this way, she effectively invented it again.

Give us our world

Our ways of being give us our world.

One of my ways of being is being a writer. It means I spend a certain amount of time each week writing, that I listen to conversations with a particular filter – “how interesting! I can use that in future” – that I carry a notebook and pen with me, that I read a lot, that I read with a particular filter, and so on.

Our ways of being do not occur like a costume or like something we’ve added or have to remember to do; they occur simply as who we are.

Being gives circumstances, not the other way around

Say a man has a way of being called “I’m hopeless with money”.  A man with this way of being will also have one or more of the following circumstances:

  • lots of debt
  • a zero balance in his bank account
  • an adverse credit record
  • a set of disgruntled friends from whom he may have borrowed in the past.

Now, while it looks like his circumstances – debt, zero balance – are giving rise to his way of being – “I’m hopeless with money” – it’s actually the other way around.

Our ways of being give us our circumstances. Or, as I said earlier, our ways of being give us our world. In the man’s case, his way of being is giving him his world of debt and zero balance.

Where do they come from?

If they don’t come from our circumstances, where do our ways of being come from? They come from the void. They come out of nothingness. First, there’s nothing, then there’s a choice. That’s it! And who’s making the choice? Why, we are.


When you really start to think about this, the ramifications are enormous.  For starters, it means there is no such thing as “authenticity”. What could authenticity possibly mean if it’s all made-up, all a matter of choice; if, at any moment, we can choose newly?

There is no authentic me; what there is the me I invent at every moment.

For this reason, every time I use the word authenticity, I ask the reader to add mental quotation marks, or better still, to consider that what I’m really talking about is a form of inauthenticity.

What is inauthenticity?

Inauthenticity is living inside the illusion we’re not choosing who we are.


Image: The connoisseur II (1984) by Peter Corlett (b. 1944, Australia) looking at unidentified bust, National Gallery of Victoria, Ian Potter Centre, Melbourne


23 thoughts on “Authenticity in quotation marks

  1. Niiiice!
    To me, authenticity of thought and action is an entanglement of will, coherency, and perspective. If one part disengages then the whole starts to lose its way. The outcomes read:

    – coherency with perspective but no will is like apathy,
    – perspective with will but no coherency means we never get round to completing anything, and,
    – will with coherency but no perspective makes us self-absorbed.

    So although you can be authentically lethargic, manic, or egotistical, being authentically oneself takes a little more effort. And bringing reflection into our daily choices and opinions, like you say, is a great way of engaging with that.
    Love the post!


  2. One of your tags could have been “Buddhism.” As I understand it, one of the four sources of dukka or suffering is delusion. Delusion takes many forms, one of them being just what you are talking about: the notion that we are fixed personalities who “can’t help it–it’s just the way I am.” If we understand that in each moment we have a choices to act or think any way we wish, then we can break out of that delusion of “ego investment.” It’s difficult because we have and entire culture supporting ego development and clinging to a sense of fixed self. But we also have an entire culture of mixed up, frustrated, suffering people!


    • We so readily fall into the delusion of thinking we are our thoughts and feelings, becoming identified with them. “This is me”, “This is who I am”, “I think this, therefore …”, “I feel this, therefore …”

      What we overlook is that we are choosing to accord them significance. Always our choice is there in the background.

      About the “It’s difficult because” …. this is a classic inauthenticity. It is inside the illusion that our circumstances give us our way of being.


  3. Lovely food for thought Narelle. My mind delights in these types of posts that stretch my way of thinking and perceiving the world. Thank you.

    Our lives are a mere reflection of what we tell ourselves about our situation & who we are.


  4. Oh my! Our minds must have crossed mid-ocean. I dwelt for some time in the night on everyone I know who does not seem “authentic”. You tossed out a question last year asking for descriptive words. It wasn’t quite like that, but yours was inauthentic. Mine was attitude. You are quite right. We are inventing ourselves every minute according to the company we keep. So there really is “no there there” as Gertrude Stein said. And our attitude needs to change each time too. Polite company demands it!

    great article.


    • haha, congenial company demands it too! ;)

      Gertrude Stein certainly knew a thing or two about these matters. She also nailed it in “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose …”


  5. Lovely insight Nell. You’ve perfectly identified an inauthenticity I have, that I can now take full responsibility for. Thank you.


    • The “I hope we are” makes me laugh. So often we and those around us do not appear to be changing, right? Still the same old fixed attitude, the same difficulty. It sure gives the illusion that we have solid, fixed characters, doesn’t it? And yet it’s the same principle of ultimate malleability at work: choosing over and over again, only the same option keeps being chosen.


    • Why, my beloved French Canadian man, I am here. And you’ve used my favourite French word, epoustouflant, which sadly I no longer remember the meaning of … is it something like flabbergasting? I shall be around to yours anon. No reason for my absence other than getting preoccupied with growing my business and trying to build another website which is not going as smoothly as I would like.


  6. I’ve posted a comment as you no doubt will see. So much more to say, but it’s your chosen subject this word “Authenticity”… a very defining word in my poetry world. Mais chacun son got. Jean-Jacques


  7. Narelle, Sooo Deep.

    “AUTHENTICITY” is difficult to define, but to me it is one who walks the walk, is not fake, is not afraid to show flaws, weakness, the true self….. Yes, these authentic people I can relate to.

    How fun you would be to talk w/ you for hours, Narelle! Xxxx


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