When we came back from the dentist on Saturday, Partner-Guy and I were talking about our experience of how many mainstream comments and assumptions we had fielded. He mentioned that he sometimes feels like he says things he doesn't really mean just to avoid potentially offending someone. For example, if someone tells him "I weaned my baby the first time he bit me!", Partner-Guy will say Oh, is that right? instead of Oh, Patti nursed Jazzy until she was almost 3 years old.
We talked about how we choose sometimes not to be authentic just because our own version of normal is so far outside of what other people consider to be normal.
In one of her teleclasses available for download as an MP3, Naomi Aldort talks about his issue. She says that when we temper our responses to other people's assumptions and ideas that we are choosing not to be authentic, that we are not being true to ourselves. She gives an example of how she always tells first-time guests to her house that her family is alcohol-free so that guests will not bring her gifts of wine or other libations. And if guests do bring alcohol, she sends it back home with them. She doesn't worry about offending them because she has stated her own preference and standard for herself and her family.
Naomi goes on to explain that most people would rather know the truth than know that another person is patronizing them by trying to protect them from the possibility of being offended. In other words, taking it upon ourselves to decide what another person can or cannot handle is both inauthentic for ourselves AND for the other person.
Now, I'm not talking about arriving at your sister's house for her birthday and saying "Your house is a disaster! Didn't you think you should clean up a little? You knew we were coming!" But if your sister greets you with "You're just in time for chocolate cake and hotdogs!" and then tries to feed some to your 8 month-old baby, you have to be authentic and tell her that your baby doesn't eat those foods. If she takes offense at your desire to feed your baby according to your own standards, then that is for her to own. You cannot own someone else's feelings about your authenticity.
There are many authentic things about me that might offend other people for various reasons. Would you like to test whether or not you are offended by the following ideas?
- I think I'm attractive. I think my kids are attractive too.
- For me, breastfeeding is the best way to meet a baby's nutritional and physical needs.
- Public school will never be the right choice for my family.
- We don't eat chemicals marketed as food.
- I accommodate the needs of my children first, even when the needs of family or friends create a conflict of interest for me.
I wish I had understood this definition of confidence and authenticity when I was much younger. And I wish I had been mature enough to define my own values and standards--it would have made me much more selective about the type of people who I allowed into my inner circle of intimacy.
I think the most important lesson that my children can learn from my life is that they have to define their own values and standards and then stay true to themselves. Their values might differ from mine, and I can handle that. They might be more (or less) generous than me. They might be more (or less) health conscious than me. They might be more (or less) politically active than me.
But as long as they know themselves, their values and their standards, and as long as they live their lives authentically, I will be enormously proud of them and whatever paths they choose.