What is Real?

What is Real? January 28, 2015

Many products are designed to imitate the real thing. There is plastic decking that looks like real wood. Vinyl flooring that appears to be ceramic tile. You can purchase fake fur or jewelry, phony noses, hairpieces, and other body parts.

The Ultimate Accessory for the 4×4 driving city dweller: Spray On Mud

The purpose behind all of these items is fairly obvious, but what about a can of Spray-on Mud?

Spray-on Mud is designed for use on the outside of your SUV. That way it appears you use your expensive gas-guzzler for more than taking the kids to soccer practice. Spray it on and friends might think you’ve just returned from a wilderness adventure.

Sales of the product are going well, particularly in America, and in London where the concept originated. “If they want an authentic look,” says inventor Colin Dowse, “There’s not a lot else they can do. There’s not a lot of mud in Chelsea.” Apparently, $15 a can seems a reasonable price for the appearance of authenticity.

While giving your truck or SUV the just-been-muddin’ look may be good for some, being authentic is essential for everyone. I guess the first question we must ask is, “ What does it mean to be authentic? What is authenticity? Simply put, being authentic means you’re true to your own personality, values, and spirit, regardless of the pressure that you’re under to act otherwise.  It means possessing a transparency that allows others to see and experience the unfiltered personality, without any masking.

Yet, being authentic isn’t encouraged or welcomed. From childhood we’re taught to cover up our true selves with masks. Let me give you a few examples.

  • The “parents” mask (What YOU want isn’t important)
  • The “thou shalt, thou shalt not” mask (YOUR choices aren’t important)
  • The “look perfect to the world” mask (YOUR uniqueness isn’t important)
  • The “don’t question” mask (What YOU think isn’t important)
  • The “deity/religion” mask (YOU are worthless. YOU are broken and only I can fix you)
  • The “don’t make waves” mask (YOU must conform)
  • The “look like me, think like me, believe like me” mask (YOU are not important)

Let’s face it: wearing a mask is easier. If you blend into your surroundings then no one takes notice, no one harasses you, and you can move through life relatively free of criticism. But is that what you really want? Randy Pausch, in his book The Last Lecture,  said, “it’s not the things we do in life that we regret on our deathbed, it is the things we do not.”

For the majority of my life, I’ve tried to fit in no matter the cost. Layer after layer, the masks that I used to be ‘the perfect child, Christian, wife and mother, and pastor’ eventually buried the REAL me. The price of fitting in was losing myself.

In the film The Adjustment Bureau, David Norris (played by Matt Damon) is on the fast-track to political greatness, but a chance encounter throws everything off track. During a rally, Norris comes to grips with the reality of what it means to be authentic.


What Does it Mean to be Authentic?

Authenticity: developing a true sense of self, not merely conforming to social norms and accepted practices; being true to your values, spirit, personality, and character despite external pressures.

As non-believers, we’re bombarded with crap like this:

“Authentic atheists are a sub-species of humanityIf they exist, perhaps they have bred and spread like the alien body snatchers, and exist in our midst like spiritual zombies, indistinguishable in the teeming mass of humanity except to those few who see them and tremble.” – in The Authentic Atheist by Catholic Priest Dwight Longenecker *

Dealing with this on a daily basis makes us long for the comfort and safety ‘fitting in’. But there’s a big problem with that concept: you’re trading your authentic self for the security of being liked by others or fear of being judged. When the whispers are about you, when the dirty looks are aimed your way, when you’re no longer welcome at social events, etc., the temptation to return seems, at times, impossible to overcome. However, it’s NOT impossible, I’m living proof of the fact that you can be your true self even in the toughest situations.

So that’s the struggle that’s in front of us when we choose to be authentic. But what does being real look like? There are many answers to this question, but let me give you two of the most important.

You know who you are.

As I said earlier in this article, I lived to please other people for so long that I didn’t know the true me. When I made the decision to find myself, I had to dig down deep into the murky waters of my past. You see, I had no idea what was inside me. Even after I came out as an atheist, I wasn’t quite sure of how to live without my religion. Looking around at other people in the movement, I tried to determine how I was supposed to ‘act’– essentially I was looking for the safety of another mask. Activist, blogger, debater, speaker, protestor– which one is the right way to be an atheist? The answer may shock you but it’s NONE of the above! Now I’m not saying that activists etc. are not true atheists; what I am saying is that these can all be a way to hide your true self! If you’re blogging because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do as an atheist, then you may be hiding the real you. Knowing who you are ties into the next point–

You know your purpose.

Trying to fill a role keeps your true self hidden away, however it’s not always easy to find out who you are – especially if that’s been defined for you by your religious faith. For me, and for many of you I’m sure, we went straight to the good book. In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren writes,

“Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning, life has no significance, no hope

According to Warren, we’re all screwed! Because we live without God (definition of atheist), our life has no purpose, no meaning, no significance, and no hope. I used to believe every word of that statement. Heck! I used to preach it on a regular basis. But, it’s just not true! When we, those without God (atheists), live an authentic life filled with purpose, we DEFY this crazy logic!

Think about how empowering it is when our identity and purpose are no longer defined by a deity! Taking the responsibility for our personal life brings true, inner happiness, and peace. The path to authenticity involves uncovering our true self, finding our purpose, and living that purpose!

10402668_602782383162714_1429622761320924367_nI have a sweet little Yorkie named Nicky. Just like most dogs, he has a serious case of S.A.D.H.D. (Squirrel Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder). Every single time I take him out, he bounces from one thing to the next every millisecond. He will sniff around a mailbox, only to be distracted by a bird, only to be distracted by a squirrel running up the tree, only to be distracted by a butterfly… But, if I pull out a tennis ball everything in his world stops – except that tennis ball. Nothing else exists for him. Chasing the ball and returning it to me so that I’ll throw it again and again and again and again is all that matters now. Squirrels, butterflies, mailboxes, even chasing a cat are no longer important: only the tennis ball!

Think about it. That tennis ball is Nicky’s purpose. It represents that one thing that makes everything else fall by the wayside. When you know what causes you to forget the squirrels, then you’re finding your purpose – your tennis ball.

You live honestly.

Making the decision to live authentically demands honesty, but in ways that might surprise you. It means that we own up to the fact that we chose to conform and accept the masks dictated by society. It means rolling up our sleeves and working hard to find who we are on the inside. It means admitting when we screw-up and refusing to let our mistakes force us back behind the comfort of a mask. It means honestly believing that when we look in the mirror, the person looking back is valuable, amazing, beautiful, and 100% authentic.

One of the best loved children’s books, The Velveteen Rabbit, gives a wonderful definition of what it means to be real.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”



*Dwight Longenecker’s article received an enormous amount of complaints. He quickly removed the original post. I copied the text from the original article for use in an upcoming presentation and I’ve included it in this article. His quote is printed exactly as the original.


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