Authenticity

Author: Sophie Christophy

Following on my list of writing prompts, the one for today is Authenticity.

This is such an interesting subject. Something at once so simple and so hard, and so important for self-direction and consent.

I’m going to start by describing what authenticity means to me. To me, authenticity is the most honest and true expression of something. What is on the inside, is what is expressed on the outside. What is true and honest for someone, is said and is made known. That is what it means to be authentic. For me, authenticity sits along other words such as integrity, honest, true. For me, authenticity is about an honest and clear, direct expression of self.

It is obscured by coping strategies, stress responses, people pleasing/accommodating behaviours, or any other self-concealing things. One of the most tragic aspects of trauma is how it can scare and rob us of authentic expression. In some situations, this behaviour can be necessary for coping and even survival. Due to oppressive and discriminatory environments, discreet and explicit threats of all types of harm and violence, authenticity can be so damaged and compromised, not just in individuals but in the culture and environment as a whole. There are so many circumstances in which authenticity is broken. And in those places, and in that knowing, I still believe it can survive, that it is possible, that it can make it’s way. That there has to be a way.

Authentic expression to me is what is made known when a person has given themselves permission to, and continues to commit to, braving it as their truest version of them-self, with their bare self, intentions, ways and purpose made visible and freely expressed.

It is also the absolute centre point and guiding anchor for self-direction and meaningful consent. It is what gives the ‘self’ in self-direction meaning, and from which we can hear a ‘yes, no or maybe’ of consent. There is plenty in our world and culture to make us fearful and confuse us away from this centre point, and cause us to lose alignment with ourselves and therefore blur or mask our honest authentic expression. There are circumstances in which it may feel impossible and life threatening to be honest, true and free in our expression of ourselves.

But when we lose ourselves in this way, we also lose our lives. We lose ourselves, and everything after that is a mess because it’s based on a misleading and false sense of things.

How can you experience or engage in consensual living and relationships, if your way of being is wobbling all over the place when it comes to authenticity?

In order for something to be meaningful consensual, it must be an informed choice, freely given. If someone is behaving inauthentically, for what ever reason – is hiding, concealing, their real heart, centre of self, their true alignment and expression, then how can another come to then in a consensual way? They can’t see what it is they are really doing, in order to make an informed choice. And the choice isn’t freely given, if it’s been somewhat controlled by the presentation of information that is designed or limited in some way to sway through withholding.

It is true, that for many people it can be difficult to even locate this authentic centre. The dominant culture in which we live serves to separate us from our selves in many macro and micro ways throughout our lives from the earliest days. We’ve been grown in a soil of interpersonal and institutional violence against the self and authentic expression, where full range of emotional and other expressions of self are curtailed, limited, and loaded in various ways. This makes our engagement with our self and the world around us feel dangerous or alluring, influenced and biased in ways that lead us away from authenticity and can trigger experiences of stress and result in the adoption of coping strategies mentioned above.

And the dominant cultural resistance/erasure of the natural phenomena of lifelong learning, change, growth and evolution can stifle and limit us to a single version of ourselves, again cramping our authentic expression lest it in some way disrupt our lives or endanger relationships and foundations.

However, and this all being said. We can return to ourselves. We can find ourselves. We can work and and practice expressing ourselves. We can take risks. We can try, and practice, and work towards a new normal where authenticity feels natural and normal, and part of life. Where it just feels like us, integrated, and whole and free. Where we feel free and wouldn’t want to hide away ever again, because we love and treasure authenticity so much and know what the cost is of anything else, and all we can imagine is a world in which authenticity is in all the places and is the baseline for love and relationships. All we want is to feel the heat of that burning soul fire, that authentic heart and self.

*This blog post was originally published in December 2021 at https://sophiechristophy.com/

The revolution is just a t-shirt away

Author: Max Hope

I watch Queer Eye. Unashamedly. I love it. These five queer folk, travelling around the world, building connections and changing lives. I know that it’s Netflix and it’s commercial and it’s a very sell-able show, but it’s also really captivating. Watch it if you are not yet a convert.

Anyway, t-shirts. So Karamo Brown, one of the Fab 5, is often pictured in a t-shirt with some sort of slogan on it. I often don’t know what they mean, but they intrigue me. I pause the show to google the t-shirt and I usually learn something I didn’t know.

Stacey. Kamala. Michelle. Thank You.

Trans People Belong.

Mental Health Matters.

Black people, I love you.

Black history is more than slavery.

Three words. Four words. Five words. Six words.

Is this activism?

Karamo is described on Wikipedia as a television host, reality television personality, author, actor and activist. Are wearing slogan t-shirts a form of Karamo’s activism? How deliberate is the act? Having watched all the Queer Eye shows to date, I believe it is totally deliberate. This man does not leave anything to chance. He has an image, and a well cultivated one at that. He is the ‘culture guy’ and often works with people on matters to do with belonging, identity, connection, self-esteem, relationships. He knows what he is doing. And so – for me – wearing these t-shirts is a calculated move.

I’ve looked him up. Karamo  has recently launched a whole t-shirt collection. He is selling these to the public and giving 100% of the profits to charity. Is this a way of making money for the causes that he is passionate about? A way of influencing fashion? Or a way of making a point?

Whatever he is doing, it is working. For me anyway.

Karama has reminded me of my all-time favourite Billy Bragg song. The lyrics of Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards include the line: “So join the struggle while you may, the revolution is just a t-shirt away” [they also say “in a perfect world, we’d all sing in tune, but this is reality so give me some room” – but dwelling on that will take me off on a tangent and so I will return to t-shirts].

I am reminded of my youth. I am reminded of the times when I would wear slogan t-shirts. Where are they now? Where are my t-shirts?

Time to get some more.

What about you?

If you could make a point in just four, five or six words, what would it be?

*This was first published in January 2022 at https://maxhope.co.uk/2022/01/04/the-revolution-is-just-a-t-shirt-away/

“Writing is a lonely business.” Or is it?

Author: Max Hope

Writing is a lonely business. That’s what they say. Well, it’s what Ernest Hemingway said anyway. He proclaimed that “writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”

But is it true?

For me, writing is a way of connecting, of reaching out, of using my voice. Writing is a way of becoming visible. It can feel like shouting from the rooftops, like a rallying cry. It can express anger, pain, or delight. It can be an opportunity to make a point, clearly and concisely, without interruption. It is a way of telling stories – real or imagined – and taking the reader on a journey of my own making. It can creatively weave theory into something more tangible. It can bring academic argument to life. It can have an agenda and be trying to change hearts and minds. It can feel like a form of activism.

But is the process of writing a lonely one? Hmmm.

John Green, bestselling author of The Fault in our Stars, famously said “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.” Maybe that’s true. Well, not the bit about introverts and eye contact. Not necessarily anyway. But maybe it is something that you do alone, and maybe it is about telling a story.

Stories are told for a purpose. To entertain. To educate. To spark curiosity and interest. To persuade. Stories have a flow and a pace and rhythm. They have a beginning, middle and end. Stories have, well, a story.

They also have a listener. A reader. A viewer. Stories need to be heard. They are caught in the middle of the relationship between the storyteller and the audience. They are dynamic. They are alive.

And this is where we come back to loneliness.

When I was a university academic, I had very little connection with any sense of audience. Who was reading my work? Was anyone reading it? What did they think? Did they agree with what I was saying? Were they persuaded by my arguments, my research, my data? Was anyone out there at all? I was driven by a deep-seated desire to change the world but was anyone in the world paying attention?

The climate of academia is a competitive one. People write. People read. People critique and argue and pull things apart. Academic papers are scrutinised and scored and given a star rating. Academics strive to be ‘world changing’ and yet are pushed to write in a style that is inaccessible to all but a few. The irony.

The process of writing, as an academic, could feel lonely. It could also feel pointless. I left my university position because I had lost confidence in the system and, by default, I had lost sight of the value of what I was doing.

But I know that writing is valuable. Words are powerful and writing can change the world. Especially writing by people who are activists, changemakers, campaigners and practitioners.

Writing is powerful when it has an audience. Writing by changemakers needs to have an audience. This is where the change happens.

And this is the antidote to loneliness.

Writing is a solitary business. But it can also be connecting and purposeful and motivating. Connecting with others, building solidarity with others, and encouraging others are powerful ways to combat loneliness.

Write On, Changemakers.

This doesn’t have to feel lonely.

*This was first published in October 2021 at https://maxhope.co.uk/2021/10/28/writing-is-a-lonely-business-or-is-it/

From Martin Luther King to Greta Thunberg … and a bit of Katniss Everdeen

Author: Max Hope

Words are powerful.

Words are, as Albus Dumbledore says, ‘our most inexhaustible source of magic’.

And yet words are not always in written form. Words can be spoken, and some of the most notable changemakers use the power of the spoken word to great effect. Martin Luther King had a dream. Greta Thunberg told us that our house was on fire. Nelson Mandela said that “it is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Words and powerful. And persuasive. And they can change the world.

So why is Katniss Everdeen on the list? She is a fictional character. The Hunger Games didn’t change the world. Or did it?

In The Hunger Games trilogy (spoiler alert here), Katniss Everdeen is, through circumstance, cajoled into becoming a revolutionary and a figurehead for the rebels. Through her forced involvement in the barbaric ‘Hunger Games’, she became known as ‘the girl on fire’, and she is later used by the rebels to make propaganda films to spur on the Districts in their battle against President Snow and the all-powerful Capitol. The slogan “fire is catching, and if we burn, you burn with us” is instrumental is turning the tide against the violent dictatorship and eventually, bringing down the regime. So far, so fictional.

This is where it gets real.

The symbol of solidarity that was used in the Hunger Games books – a three fingered salute – was first used in Thailand in 2014 as a symbol of resistance after the military coup. It was later banned. But the use of the symbol has become widespread, as just a few months ago, the same salute was used by those resisting the military takeover and arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar. The symbol is now divorced from the books and has a status of its own. It is no longer fictional. It is real.

Words are powerful. Speeches are powerful.

Novels, stories, poems, blogs, speeches, songs, journalistic articles, websites, podcasts, academic papers, non-fiction books. These are methods and mechanisms for sharing ideas. Platforms for sharing words. They can all – in various ways and at different times – change the world.

This is a call to changemakers.

Who are you? What do you want to change? How, for you, could the world be a better place?

This is a call to action.

It’s time to write some words.

______________________________________________________________

Albus Dumbledore is Head Teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and his words were created by J.K. Rowling.

Katniss Everdeen was created by Suzanne Collins. Watch her ‘fire is catching’ scene here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X236AeHt5RY

*This post was originally published in October 2021 on https://maxhope.co.uk/2021/10/20/from-martin-luther-king-to-greta-thunberg-and-a-bit-of-katniss-everdeen/

There is no such thing as original thought

Author: Max Hope

“There is no such thing as original thought.”

That’s what I was told at University when I was 19 and trying to write essays. What my tutor told me – or at least, my interpretation of what they told me – was that I had to study what other people had said and I had to use this in my essays. If I was very creative, I might just about cobble together enough ‘evidence’ from other people to carefully disguise my own opinions, but I had to be very skilful in backing this up and reinforcing everything.

I was studying for a degree in Politics. And I had things to say. But I had to find someone else who had said it first. 

What I learned, here and throughout my undergraduate experience, was to hide my own voice and to rely on the authority of other people. This is what I needed to do to get a degree.

It took me years and years to find my voice again. And when I did, I could see the difference in how I spoke and in what I wrote. My writing came alive. I could hear myself, and I know that others could hear me too. My writing was more convincing, it was richer, and it was more honest. I no longer had to hide myself behind others, to fool the reader by disguising my own voice. I let myself speak.

After I had graduated with my degree, I thought I was finished with University. I had no intentions to ever go back. But life’s twists and turns took me in unexpected directions, and after many years, I found myself doing a PhD and in turn, becoming a University Lecturer.

Within my first few weeks as an academic, I had a conversation with a colleague about my work, and I told her I was excited to do some research about the experiences of young LGBTQ+ young people in schools. She looked at me curiously and asked, “but what do you know about it?”. I started to explain about some of my grassroots work of the last 20 years, about my own personal experiences, about my life, and she asked again, “but what do you know about it, I mean, what research have you read?”

Here we were again. Knowing meant reading. Knowing meant turning to the authority of others. Knowing did not come from myself, my own experience, my intuition. Knowing was outside. Knowing was other. Knowing was academic.

The university system is a machine. It is a traditional, conservative, and patriarchal machine that values some types of ‘knowing’ and privileges certain voices over others. It prizes ‘knowledge’ and ‘research’ that is produced and undertaken in a particular way and it rewards – literally – those who are able and willing to play these games.

There are people in universities who don’t see the world in this way, but they are the minority. I was one of them. I played the game for a long time. I pushed at the boundaries and I tried to change the rules and I sometimes broke the rules, but I still played.

I don’t want to play anymore.

I have stepped outside of the system, off the treadmill, away from the machine.

I want to write, and think, and create, and play. I want to do this in places which recognise that ‘knowing’ and ‘thinking’ can happen in many ways.

I want to do this for myself. And I want to do this with others. Together, we can write more and think more and create more.

Let’s write.

* This blog post was originally published in September 2021 on https://maxhope.co.uk/2021/09/28/there-is-no-such-thing-as-original-thought/