The Beauty of Authenticity
Editor’s Note: Sometimes authenticity gets a bad reputation. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because we don’t really understand it. We don’t know how to live authentically, so when someone claims to be trying it, we get uneasy, thinking it’s an endless search that doesn’t have a true conclusion. At times, we think that person is unserious, chasing passing whims. But at the core of authenticity, there is a different reality. Today we conclude our series on Beauty From Ashes, and as our writer notes, we desperately need political leadership that reflects the beauty of true authenticity.
Maybe we don’t need to do what we love as much as we need to bring what we love to what we do. I think that’s where transformation happens, where a lifeless culture can become life-giving.
Of course, bringing what you love to your work would be impossible to do without having a center, a deep down, a driving purpose. Do you know yours? A friend once told me about a candidate who ran a positive campaign—until the race turned, and he decided to go negative because he didn’t think he could win. He lost the race. A decision like that is rooted in a weak identity.
For followers of Jesus, one of the incredible aspects of the gospel is that it answers our identity-crisis wanderings. Our identities aren’t just for our own self-fulfillment. When we truly know ourselves, we can be part of a vision that’s bigger than ourselves. And to be honest, when we’re part of a work that’s bigger than self—like bringing Truth and Beauty to American politics—we get to know ourselves a lot better too.
Sometimes politics is a war between individuality and community. But I think the two complement each other. In the Kingdom, they’ll live in unison: LIBERATUS—we are set free.
-Caleb Paxton, LIBERATUS Founder
THE BEAUTY OF AUTHENTICITY IN POLITICS
Before we begin talking about authenticity in politics, I think Paul Ryan’s Address on the State of American Politics is mandatory viewing.
We crave and demand authenticity. In our religion, workplace, friendships, and politics, we expect honesty and a framework of core values. Unfortunately in our current political atmosphere authenticity is lacking. In the past, we’ve settled for soundbites and party lines, but now it’s time to push for truth and honesty. In pursuit of authentic candidates, it’s often easy to run towards leaders who are brash in their honesty and at times even harmful, not always because we agree but because it’s refreshing to hear words that weren’t curated by political machines. We crave words that are one’s own.
Speaker Ryan addressed this issue and encouraged a way forward that doesn't involve harmful rhetoric.
We don’t resort to scaring you, we dare to inspire you. We don’t just oppose someone or something. We propose a clear and compelling alternative. And when we do that, we don’t just win the argument. We don’t just win your support. We win your enthusiasm. We win hearts and minds. We win a mandate to do what needs to be done to protect the American Idea.
In a confident America, we also have a basic faith in one another. We question each other’s ideas—vigorously—but we don’t question each other’s motives. If someone has a bad idea, we don’t think they’re a bad person. We just think they have a bad idea. People with different ideas are not traitors. They are not our enemies. They are our neighbors, our coworkers, our fellow citizens. Sometimes they’re our friends. Sometimes they’re even our own flesh and blood, right? We all know someone we love who disagrees with us politically, or votes differently.
But in a confident America, we aren’t afraid to disagree with each other. We don’t lock ourselves in an echo chamber, where we take comfort in the dogmas and opinions we already hold. We don’t shut down on people—and we don’t shut people down. If someone has a bad idea, we tell them why our idea is better. We don’t insult them into agreeing with us. We try to persuade them. We test their assumptions. And while we’re at it, we test our own assumptions too.”
And the call to a higher standard didn’t stop here. It wasn’t just Speaker Ryan’s call for a purer form of American politics and democracy that I found so appealing as a congressional staffer, it was taking authenticity even further when he admitted his own failures.
I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you I have always met this standard. There was a time when I would talk about a difference between “makers” and “takers” in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized I was wrong. “Takers” wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family. Most people don't want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn’t castigate a large group of Americans to make a point.
So I stopped thinking about it that way—and talking about it that way. But I didn’t come out and say all this to be politically correct. I was just wrong. And of course, there are still going to be times when I say things I wish I hadn’t. There are still going to be times when I follow the wrong impulse.
As a Political Reporter for TIME Magazine put it, it’s “Kind of refreshing to hear a party leader admit fault like this.” It really was refreshing though. Unfortunately, we don’t see this attitude and mentality out of the majority of our political discourse or leaders today. Speaker Ryan’s call isn’t a call based on party allegiance or just for the political leaders but it's for all of us. The stay-at-home mom raising her children—she has the opportunity to instill authenticity and a better dialogue at home. Those working at the grassroots levels have the power to use their fields to inspire healthy vigorous debate on the issues. For us working in Congress or other institutions, we have the opportunity to craft an authentic message.
Today's writer is a current Executive Assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives.
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
This week listen to Speaker Ryan’s speech. Spend some time reflecting on your own political discourse. How do you react to those with different views? What are your strongly held beliefs about them? Are there areas or issues that your rhetoric is harmful instead of genuine? And lastly, what does authenticity in politics look like for you? Are you striving towards that?
LIBERATUS is a weekly journal creatively pursuing Truth and Beauty by empowering writers in American politics to tell the story of healing through freedom. You can join the pursuit by applying to write, subscribing to the journal, or by funding the movement by donating monthly or by making a purchase in our store.
Cover Photo Credit: Heather Gibbons