Being genuine is hard. As humans, we are equipped with so many ways of disguising ourselves, that to be open, transparent, sincere, genuine – whatever you want to call it – is tough.
We have a mixed relationship with openness. We laud it in principle, but we also know that ‘too much information’ can stand in the way of comfort. There has to be an art to openness: otherwise we would be unable to decide between the openness of a crying baby, and the openness of an expert diplomat. Both are capable of sharing what is going on for them; but the context determines how effective they are.
Transparency, too, is complex. We may consider it good to let others ‘see our workings’, to let them view what’s going on inside for us. But equally sometimes it would disturb or upset others unnecessarily, and a certain opaqueness can smooth the way, and ensure people are not overburdened by our presence.
Sincerity can be extremely welcome, but, on the other side of the equation, we tend to like only sincerity which tells us what we want to hear. Those who can modify their speech and behaviour to soften the ears of listeners, even at the expense of maximum sincerity, can be valuable in public life.
Given all this, what we mean by genuineness can be heavily nuanced and complicated. But perhaps we can identify a few stable characteristics.
A genuine person has a genuine relationship with themselves. If we are striving to be genuine, then, first and foremost, perhaps, we can learn to be open to everything we see and hear, especially as regards our own self. Even though there might be times when we don’t share everything, we can still allow our own minds to catch, in a balanced way, everything that goes through it.
We can also be transparent with ourselves. We can get into a lot of trouble when we hide ourselves from ourselves. For instance, sometimes we dress ourselves up as beautiful; but this can build up internal pressure when our self-image threatens to be less than beautiful. Equally, sometimes we tell ourselves stories about our own lives, and come to believe them; this makes us feel anxious and pressurised when others challenge that story and suggest it is not true. Inner transparency means not relying on those stories to bolster our self-image. We can then hear whatever others say freely, without being offended.
Finally, we can be sincere with ourselves. That’s to say, we can be true of intention, and not try to con ourselves with invented mannerisms. Often we adopt other people’s style, words, behaviours and rules, in order to make us feel better. Perhaps we can get better at holding ourselves to account in a way that is true for us. Never mind other people’s rules – what do we think? Are we clearly aligned, in our thoughts and actions, with our own values?
A genuine person is hard to find – particularly because genuineness requires such diplomatic skills in order to be palatable to others.
But we can start by being genuine with ourselves. Inner genuineness means being self-aware; it means not telling ourself false stories; and it means holding ourselves to account according to our own, genuinely-held values.