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Authenticity has become the modern currency of blogging.
Unlike traditional media sources, most bloggers aren’t beholden to any puppeteers. To some people this is a whole different kind of problem, but it’s also clearly a key strength of the new media. With 175,000 new blogs launching every day, blogging is becoming a popular alternative to the filtered, agenda-driven drivel that passes as news in older media.
When I do interviews with journalists from traditional magazines and newspapers, it isn’t uncommon for the journalist to make a side comment like, “I wish I could do what you’re doing,” or “You’re so lucky to be free to write what you want instead of having to write what magazines will buy.” I can see that many of these people are frustrated by writing for money. I suspect that a lot of the print media articles that seem like shallow fluff pieces are written by people who crave a deeper, more authentic form of self-expression, but they feel stunted from being able to write that way out of fear they won’t be able to make a living. I might have a really deep conversation with a journalist on the phone, but what eventually shows up in print is only a shadow of what we talked about.
I think this longing for authentic communication is what drives people to blogging, both as bloggers and as readers. While some people blog primarily for financial reasons, I’d say most do not. Even many who are able to make a living at it are blogging primarily as an outlet for creative self-expression, for sharing ideas, and for engaging in global conversations.
What is authenticity?
Authenticity means being real and genuine when you communicate. Let truth be your guiding principle. This is the natural style of communication we might use when talking to a best friend.
I saw a great example of authentic communication in my friend John Kinde’s blog. In his piece Public Speaking – The Power of Authenticity, he links to an old 1960s video clip of Mr. Rogers speaking to the US Senate. I suggest you read John’s short commentary before watching the video.
After being in a position where I’m able to enjoy such an abundance of authentic communication with people via this blog, email, the forums, and in person, I find it much harder to stomach inauthentic communication. For example, when I receive an email that opens with marketing-speak, I’ll usually delete it before reading past the first paragraph, even if the email wouldn’t be classified as spam. I just don’t want to spend time dealing with people who aren’t willing to communicate like real human beings. It’s not that I don’t care about them — it’s just that inauthentic communication feels wrong to me, mentally, emotionally, and physically. My body reacts like I just ate spoiled food.
Blocks to authenticity
Authentic communication is challenging on several levels. First, we must face the fears that block our inner truths from coming out, especially the fear of rejection. And secondly, even when we feel strong enough to communicate the truth, we don’t always have clarity about what is true for us. But being authentic doesn’t mean being perfect. It just means doing our best to be real. Sometimes that means exposing our warts and imperfections, but therein lies the beauty of authenticity.
In the Mr. Rogers video clip, notice that he doesn’t speak perfectly. He stumbles a few times. He could have been more eloquent. But his message gets through very powerfully, and it clearly has a transforming effect on the room. He doesn’t react to the energy of others with resistance. He just responds with his own authentic style, as if he were totally unattached to outcomes. What other style of communication could have succeeded under those circumstances?
When I was a young child, I used to watch Mr. Roger’s show all the time. I liked how he always seemed so calm… and how he could talk and tie his shoes at the same time.