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Authenticity Takes Courage
When you risk everything to take a stand.
“Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.” — Fred Rogers
There’s an old proverb that goes, “Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan.”
Sometimes, standing up for what’s right can seem like a lonely task.
Just this week, tennis pro Naomi Osaka determined that she would not speak to the media around the French Open, citing her mental health as the cause.
The tournament officials fined her $15,000 and threatened even stiffer penalties at other Grand Slam events if she continued to refuse. Undeterred, Osaka withdrew from the French Open.
Osaka’s decision has caused a great uproar, from people in support of her and critical of her decision. A decision that was deeply personal and tied to her mental health.
Indeed, if Osaka had broken her ankle on the court, would the press have expected her to walk on it? Mental health is no different, and she made a decision in defense of her health.
The meditation app Calm stepped up in support of her, making it very clear their stance on mental health:
Even more, Calm announced it will pay the fines for any 2021 Grand Slam player who opts out of press appearances for mental health reasons, and will make additional $15,000 donations to support Laureus on behalf of each of those athletes.
Osaka courageously displays her authenticity; Calm has an opportunity to show its values in an authentic way as well.
Authenticity In the Face of Fear
In the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy waged a war of terror on United States citizens as he levied exaggerated claims on them, tying to Americans’ fear of communism. His insatiable thirst for attention and controversy, combined with a national climate of fear and anxiety, resulted in four years of demagoguery.
He understood that people needed a boogeyman—someone to blame for their fear. So McCarthy latched onto the idea that there were communist spies in the government, in entertainment, and in the press.
He made accusations but provided no proof. He had no ideology; he was an opportunist who liked seeing himself in the headlines. And as he continued his attacks, he claimed he was being victimized by left-wing news outlets.
[Does any of this sound familiar?]
McCarthy’s assault continued even after Dwight Eisenhower, a fellow Republican, won the White House. At this point, McCarthy attacked members of the Army.
On March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow dedicated all 30 minutes of his program See It Now to covering McCarthy and his methods. He went further than reporters or anchors were supposed to go, and offered up this closing commentary, calling for fellow Americans to stand up for what they believed in:
“This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
“The actions of our junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay from our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear, he merely exploited it. And rather successfully. Cassius was right: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."”
McCarthy joined the program the following week to refute the charges, but as usual, only blustered, instead accusing Murrow—one of Americas most respected journalists—of being a Communist. Murrow’s response the next week leveled McCarthy:
“He proved again that anyone who exposes him, anyone who does not share his hysterical disregard for decency and human dignity and the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, must be either a Communist or a fellow traveler.”
Finally, on June 9, 1954, Joseph Welch, a Boston lawyer representing the Army at the McCarthy hearings in the Senate, stood up to the bullying senator on national television, saying, “At long last, have you no sense of decency?”
For a full recounting of Murrow’s courage and authenticity, you’ll want to listen to the very excellent Episode 6 of It Was Said, “Edward R. Murrow Fights for Free Press.”
We can’t always choose the moments when our authenticity is needed. But when we’re confronted with wrongs to right, we have an opportunity to show our values and live authentically.
And while it may seem like a lonely task at the time, you can rest assured that there are many people who share your values and who will line up behind you in support.
It just takes courage to go first.
“Who you are inside is what helps you make and do everything in life.” — Fred Rogers
Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open raises a question every leader must be prepared to answer. If you ran the French Open, what would you have done? (Inc.)
If you want your audience to have a positive impression of you, there are two things to keep in mind: competence and authenticity. (Ethos3)
Don’t fear being your authentic self, even if you’re consumed by impostor syndrome. For the only people who don't suffer from impostor syndrome are actual impostors. (Timeless & Timely)
This is a sample of what we send paid subscribers each week. Try it out and see how it suits you:
“Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.” — W.H. Auden, 1962
On June 1, 1950, Margaret Chase Smith, Senator from Maine—the only woman senator at the time—stood up to fellow Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who was on a fearmongering crusade, by saying “I do not want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny—Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.” The story of her Declaration of Conscience is well worth a read and should reverberate today. (U.S. Senate)
If we slow down, observe more and reflect, we can discover more about ourselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson on living with presence and authenticity. (Brain Pickings)
From monks to existentialists and hipsters, the search for a true self has been a centuries-long project. Should we give it up? Authenticity Is A Sham. (Aeon)
Recommended Listening / Reading
“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.” ― Christopher Morley
🎧 “Just be yourself.” That's popular work advice these days, with more and more companies encouraging people to “be authentic” and bring their whole selves to work. But when we get real at the wrong time or in the wrong way, it can backfire. What does effective authenticity look like, and how can we learn to strike the right balance? In this episode of Work Life, Adam Grant explores how Authenticity Is a Double-Edged Sword.
📚 Minter Dial shows readers how embracing your whole self at work encourages people to also be themselves, seek true fulfillment at work, and merge the personal and professional to become true examples of what you stand for. You Lead: How Being Yourself Makes You a Better Leader is a call to arms to leaders to stop pretending to be who they are not, and play on their uniqueness and strengths, to allow people to do the same and develop a culture of authenticity and purpose.
Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate link.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.