Erin's Everyday Thoughts

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On Being Genuine

I’ve been thinking lately about relationships—loves, friendships, family ties. In each of these, the thing I strive for most is to be genuine. Right now, this word is one of the most intriguing and important to me. I decided to look it up to understand its literal dimensions first.

gen·u·ine [jen-yoo-in] –adjective
1. possessing the claimed or attributed character, quality, or origin; not counterfeit; authentic; real: genuine sympathy; a genuine antique.
2. properly so called: a genuine case of smallpox.
3. free from pretense, affectation, or hypocrisy; sincere: a genuine person.
4. descended from the original stock; pure in breed: a genuine Celtic people.

The genuine I’d like to achieve comes through in each of these but most strongly in definition #3. “Free of pretence, affectation, or hypocrisy; [and another word for which I have a strong affection] sincere.”

I also did a quote search to see what’s been said on the subject. I didn’t come up with a lot, but I did think these three were interesting:

“I’m afraid of losing my obscurity. Genuineness only thrives in the dark. Like celery.” --Aldous Huxley

“Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations. Don’t over-analyse your relationships. Stop playing games. A growing relationship can only be nurtured by genuineness.” --Leo F. Buscaglia

(and this one isn’t really about genuineness at all, but I found it in my search and liked it)

“When genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.”
--D.H. Lawrence

I think there are several levels to being genuine. (And I'm presenting these here purely as my current thoughts on the subject.) The first involves being true to yourself; the second being genuine when interacting with others; and the third nourishing genuineness in others.

I think in order to hit levels two and three, you have to have explored level one. If you’re striving to be genuine, it must help to first figure out what you’re all about. What is real to you? What is true to you? How do you feel? How do you think? What moves you? What is right and wrong to you? I don’t think you have to have fast answers to all of these questions--maybe only to have thought about them. But I think the first step must be to be honest about yourself—emotionally, intellectually, morally. (And these "answers" will certainly change throughout your life!)

The next level then would be taking those ideas and ideals of self and showing them to the world through your interactions with others. I think this is where it gets tricky. This step takes real effort. (Not that the first one doesn’t.) I find especially in interactions where I don’t know someone very well, I tend to put on a persona that seems appropriate instead of always being genuinely me. I don’t think this is a bad thing; it may even be necessary in some cases. But I can only imagine a person feels most fulfilled when she is genuinely herself in as many situations as possible. Idle chit-chat. Small talk. Saying things just to say things. I think these can hurt strides toward genuineness. If you speak without thinking, you’re bound eventually to say something that you don’t really mean, something that you just think you should be saying, something that is not sincere.

I often associate thoughtfulness with genuineness, although I don’t think the two always go hand and hand. I once worked with a man who spoke slowly. I guess it was less speaking slowly and more pausing for long moments before he spoke. At first, this was hard to adjust to, and I wasn’t sure why it took him so long to respond in conversations. As I got to know him better, though, I realized each pause was full of thought. And each thing he said was exactly what he thought on a subject. How inspiring!

This is not to say that I think genuine conversation has to be serious conversation or slow and thoughtful conversation. I think that spontaneity, humor, quick-witted repertoire, can be just as genuine. It can show you into someone’s sense of humor, someone’s random thought patterns.

Back to it, though. The third level I see is nourishing genuineness in others. I think this can be done in a leading-by-example way (be genuine yourself) and also by showing appreciation for someone else’s sincerity.

As I want to be genuine in my life, I also want to be genuine in my writing. This is a topic for another day, though.

Here are my questions for you (and I’d love to hear thoughts):

1) What is the difference between being genuine and being honest?
2) How do you maintain genuineness in your life and in your writing?
3) Why in the world isn’t there a word “genuinity”? (I kept finding in writing this that I wanted to use this made-up word!)

And now, I am genuinely finished with this entry. :-)


  • Erin, this is the topic that most perplexes me. It is my greatest motivation and also the bane of my existence. I can't tell you how many times I've admonished myself for not being genuine, honest, my real self, etc. I was reading a book recently about teaching by Jay Parnini. He maintains that we all must wear masks in life. I used to rebel against such a notion, but on some level I think Parnini is right. I have a mask I put on for teaching (I am less structured and formal than other teachers; still I do assume a pose, as is necessary because BGSU isn't my forum--I teach for the college and must meet certain obligations the university sets). I think I have made peace with this fact of the mask so that I'm not chiding myself all the time for being a fake. There are also certain masks we wear with our friends. In fact, we can never be totally honest with others, because to do that is to repeat to them every cruel thought that has ever entered your head. We must shape our discourse and our image to some extent. I think in writing we wear a different kind of mask. Orr talks about it in the book I gave you for X-mas, so check it out! Very fascinating! I have also, and still do sometimes, get tripped up in what it means to "be true to yourself." Parnini says we have many selves, not one self. I think this is true, too. Still, I like to hang on to the romantic notion that there is some truly essential part of my being that is immutable, at the very core of my identity. I think I still search for that as I write. Here is where Orr also helped me to understand something. This notion of the Threshold, which isn't new to me, was given a new dimension in Orr's book. If I pay close attention to what my threshold is, won't that tell me much about myself? Things that many people rave about, I feel nothing--even as I acknowledge that, yes, the prose is beautiful, the themes are relevant, etc. Why is it that I like simplicity and darkness and just the perfectly chosen metaphor, I wonder? Why is Bukowski so much better to me than Wordsworth or Frost? It isn't his message that I like, usually--what a misogynist--but rather something about his honesty and this deep affliction of his involving his father. Maybe it is because I have wounds involving my father? I think the threshold idea can tell us much about our sense of self, yes, I do.

    By Blogger Theresa Williams, at 12:01 AM  

  • Ah, Erin. Another thoughtful post. I recall reaching a specific point in life when I made the decision that I would be as genuine as the standards of society allow, in all of my relationships. Of course, we do all have to wear masks. If I were my genuine self when speaking with my manager, he never would have hired me! But within those social parameters, I do try to be genuine in my dealings with others. To me, this means listening actively when others want to share, modeling by sharing my true thoughts and feelings, and being as serious and sympathetic as I can when the situation calls for it. That last one is actually probably hardest for me. One of the ways that I cope with life is by looking for the funny side of things, and sometimes it's hard for me to see the levity of a situation. So, being my genuine self sometimes gets me into "trouble," so to speak. And, so far as the difference between genuine and honest, I think it's something like the internal and external views, but I don't know exactly how to express that. Something along the lines of "genuine has to do with being truthful with yourself, and honesty has to do with being truthful with others". Or, this is how I see it, at any rate.

    By Blogger Erin, at 7:44 PM  

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