by Christelle Kamanan, January 2022
Authenticity is the current buzzword. People speak of being authentic either to define a brand or to speak about personal objectives and relationships. It does not make much sense, and it is useless and vague. Being authentic does not indicate what you want, and it also does not say anything about you. Claiming authenticity equals declaring “I want to be me”.
This word comes from the ancient Greek word authentes (auto: self + hentes: doing). The most accurate translation is to do or to be one-self. As far as it is known, no other option is possible. You can only be you, whether you like it or not. Being authentic has nothing to do with what a person does, how they live or how they express themselves. Modifying a physical aspect, a lifestyle, and anything else has never changed the inherent nature of a human being. Authenticity is neither a criterion nor a characteristic. As mentioned in its definition, the word serves to endorse an essence. It is very different from a personality, which evolves throughout life and has attributes. Words such as assertive, expressive, joyful, fearless, generous can described a personality. They are clear and precise indications in comparison to authentic.
It is where the confusion often comes. While people want to describe a characteristic, they would like to emphasise in their life or their interactions with others, they tend to say authentic. It is common and participates in how it has become a trendy word. But it is also misleading. This confusion has been existing for centuries.
Even philosophers and scholars have been discussing it for a long time. One reason stands in the evolution of authentes — the Greek word — in its Latin localisation — authenticus, which translates in whole, clean, uninjured, pure. If this is the most promoted interpretation, it is necessary to understand that it is not the accurate definition of authentic. Also, the concept of the noble savage has supported this interpretation (human beings are naturally pure and good; society corrupts them.)
Based on that, authenticity has often replaced sincerity. And it happens that in Latin, sincere —sincerus — also means whole, clean, pure, uninjured. With such a situation, it is easy to be confused. Thus, here are two words used as synonyms, even though they do not indicate the same idea.
At that point, it seems relevant to have a look at when the word authenticity is effective. As already explained, it confirms the nature of something. It perfectly fits an object or a document. For instance, an original artwork made by an artist is an authentic piece of art. It means that it is not a copy.
This argument still raises concerns on whether authenticity can apply to a human being, more generally to a living being. As one can only be oneself, there is no possibility for being a copy. So, would there be a need to attest to the authenticity of someone? If so, what should be the indicators? There would be the need to discuss this process.
Moreover, authenticity in its definition does not include changes, but life does.
Authenticity cannot be the relevant word when it comes to express or embody anything personal. It just confirms that one is oneself. Odds are there is always a more accurate word than this one. The way we speak reflects our thinking process. Let us not reduce it by using a buzzword.