The inspiration for today’s assembly came from a Ted Talk I watched recently by a Scottish psychologist on authenticity and being yourself.
If I had to ask you now for volunteers, how many of you would raise your hands? Not too many I think. If I were to go down the road to one of the many primary schools in our area and ask the same question, what do you think would happen? As I spoke to younger and younger audiences, I think the number of volunteers would increase – and this is without knowing what they are volunteering for! The psychologist, Caroline McHugh, posed a different question and said what if she were to ask the children who was the strongest in the room. They would, mostly, say that they were themselves. If I had to ask you the same question, you would probably point to someone else.
There is a spontaneity and energy in our young people that, coupled with very little fear of the unknown, gives them a certain authenticity. They are not formed yet by the world around them and feel free to try something without knowing what it is. They have an image of themselves that is untarnished by society. They believe they are invincible and are probably at their most creative. They are truly authentic.
That same authenticity and honesty comes back, but only after many years when we are old and don’t care what people think about us. So if we are only truly authentic in our first few years and our last few, what happens in-between? How authentic are we and how true to ourselves are we or are we pressured to conform to the world around us no matter where we may be?
We start learning behaviours from those around us, family, community and school. We learn to behave in a certain way to fit in. We want to belong and so behave according to the situation we are in to be part of the crowd. We learn that we can get hurt, we learn that we can fail and the world doesn’t much like failure. We learn that we can get reward for certain behaviours and before we volunteer we want to know what that reward would be.
This learned behaviour is powerful – it helps you form who you are. Those things we don’t like such as racism, bullying, sexism and so on are all learned behaviours. We don’t have them naturally – we learn them from others, our parents, families, friends and so on. But learned behaviours can also be for the good such as when we learn to help others, to be kind and polite. I don’t think we are completely formed as human beings when we are born – we learn things along the way both good and bad. So – how do we know if the stuff we are learning is helping us be authentic and be true to ourselves or not and what can we do about it?
I suppose the answer lies in taking the scenario of volunteers a little further by asking the question why you don’t volunteer. Let us say I put a blindfold on your eyes and asked you to volunteer. I bet there would be more volunteers than if I asked you when you could see what those around you were doing. You see, most of us want to fit in so we see what others are doing before committing ourselves and that is not true authenticity. We may end up not volunteering for something we would normally because of what others may think about us.
One of the reasons we vote as a secret ballot is to stop the influence of others and to allow you to be true to yourself. To allow you to choose those you want rather than those others want. We don’t want you to feel uncomfortable about your choices.
Look at yourself in the next few days and ask the question – how authentic am I? Have I made this decision because it is true to me or have I made it to please others? We all know that there are times when we need to comply and need to fit in to a system but we also know that sometimes we make a decision because we are influenced to do so and then regret it later. Don’t have regrets.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
― Oscar Wilde
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
― Bernard M. Baruch
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson