If you’ve spent a lot of time in meetings, seminars, conferences, and other such gatherings that are part of our information society, then you’ve probably encountered the contrasts between posturing and authenticity. I’d like to explore this for a few minutes.
This week I’m reflecting upon the annual Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict, sponsored by the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) network and hosted by Columbia University in New York City last Thursday and Friday. Participating in this workshop has become a more-or-less annual ritual for me, and one of the most meaningful. It’s a global gathering of scholars, practitioners, activists, and students committed to advancing human dignity. I like these folks a lot; simply being around them makes me a better person.
One of the workshop’s most endearing aspects is the quality of authenticity that participants bring to it. There is something very real about this gathering. There’s more genuine exchange and a lot less posturing over the course of this two-day event than you’ll find at many programs heavily populated by academics and professionals.
What do I mean by posturing? In the context of meetings and conferences, posturing is the practice of saying “learned” things or raising “clever” questions primarily to make an impression, rather than to enrich a discussion. The two fields I am most familiar with, academe and law, are positively rife with posturing.
Yup, I’ve engaged in posturing, especially as a younger professor. But thankfully, especially during the past decade, I feel like I’ve discovered my authentic voice. In this mode, I’m in alignment with my values and consequently much less prone to getting caught up in superficial attempts to manage impressions.
The authenticity vs. posturing question brings up deeper, important questions about how we reach that place of alignment and present ourselves to our colleagues and co-workers: What is one’s natural persona in a vocational or professional setting? How are we authentic or not in such settings? What’s the difference between becoming real versus constructing an artificial self?
Especially when we’re new to a given field or group of people, we tend to want to make a good impression. That’s natural. Especially as neophytes, we may engage in posturing as a mask for feeling unsure of ourselves or to mold ourselves to external expectations. That’s natural, too. But what happens when managing impressions becomes the end game, rather than creating and discovering our more authentic, substantive groove? Evolving away from the former and toward the latter is a key part of our growth and development, on the job and elsewhere.
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