Authenticity is a buzzword these days. Not that it is a bad value, but it is interesting that there is so much talk about something yet we all cannot seem to acquire it. In economic terms, there is a market for authenticity yet we cannot seem to meet the market demands. It makes one wonder if the decline of Church participation correlates with the rise of the "authentic" craving?
Many of my millennial peers are in pursuit of authentic experiences. Where previous generations may have collected stamps or baseball cards or porcelain frogs, many in my generation collect authentic experiences. We sit around and listen to one another's stories of travel. We brag about who has eaten the most authentic food types. We talk about what is "real" and what is "plastic". We compare notes on what new technology is rising in order to help us stay connected and (even better) give another platform for us to share our authentic experiences.
Despite our expressed desires, we millennials are not good at authenticity in ourselves. We are just like any other generation that has come before us, we are more interested in finding our tribe (those who walk, talk, live and more like us) than finding authentic community. When our search for authenticity leads us to people that are just like us, we can be certain we are in a fabricated world full of mirrors pointed at ourselves.
True authenticity requires that we engage with the world and not just our tribe. Because only when we engage with others that are not like us do we being to discover who our true "authentic" selves are. As Joan Chittister said in Wisdom Distilled From the Daily
"It is in community where we find out who we really are. It is life with another that shows my impatience and life with another that demonstrates my possessiveness and life with another that gives notice to my nagging devotion to the self. Life with someone else, in other words, doesn’t show me nearly as much about his or her shortcomings as it does about my own."
And so, if we really desire authenticity the first step is not to find those who are like us, but those who may not be like us. Authenticity does not begin with another, it begins within. Could it be that the desire for authenticity is not because we don't know if the other people or groups in our world are "plastic" or "real", but that we don't know if we are.