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Authenticity. It's a cultural thang.

I grew up in the black church. I grew up going to Lutheran schools. I received a doctrine of faith, family and fairness.

Studying both Martin Luther's, (the 16th century Monk, and Dr. King Jr.), I quickly learned a theology of inclusion and strength.

Surrounded by family on Sunday mornings during worship, I was encouraged to speak up and speak out. Educated by those of the Lutheran faith, I was encouraged to follow Martin Luther's example of breaking away from traditions that don't fit our humanity (yes, he broke away for the laws of the Catholic Chruch and particularly those that said man could save himself through ritual).

Many centuries later, Martin Luther King Jr, would be encouraging us to break away from the systems and rituals that were destructive to our humanity.

What I learned in both of those classrooms of theological thought was that we as humans have a choice, to be the highest version of ourselves, or the lowest version of ourselves.

We can choose to hate or to love. Pain or prosperity. But it's and all or nothing proposition. You cannot decide not to love someone (hate) because of race, sexual orientation, economic status, religion, where they live, weight, and on and on, and then proclaim you love the people that look like you, worship like you, live like you. That my friends is still full-on hate.

No, unfortunately you cannot have it both ways. That's exactly what both Martin Luther's were saying. Love or hate, it's an all or nothing proposition. When I think about the events that are unfolding all around us, and the lines that people are drawing about which side they fall on, I am highly distressed. It takes a lot of work to either hate or to love. The amount of work, let's face it, is the same.

I have come to understand that in this life we either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work for both is exactly the same.

As I count down to the end of a rare two-week vacation just for myself…I had the privilege of focusing on those things that make me strong, at home and in the workplace. Recalling the lessons of both Martin Luther's, one of the things I mused on was this notion of authenticity.

It's the very thing that both Martin Luther's were saying, that the Chruch, the government were not doing. They were saying that both the church and the government were saying one thing to people, but their actions indicated something entirely different.

What I focused on during my time off was how we have started this trend of wanting people to be authentic at work. Showing up as their real selves. Part of the reason that is impossible is because if you don't spend any time getting to know someone who grew up from a culture different from yours, what you are expecting is that their authenticity looks exactly like your authenticity.

This idea of bringing our whole selves to work is somehow based upon what someone else believes is authentic.

As humans we never leave half of ourselves anywhere. The concept of authenticity in and of itself says that you expect half of my humanity. What you don't want me or anyone who is black or brown, LGBTQ+, older adults, those with disabilities is to show up in a way that offends. And as both Martin Luther's would have described it, as being based upon ritual.

Showing up as something other than authentic means I can choose to change my race, my hair, my dialect, my age, my disability and more. I can't. So, what you get will be me.

I am and will be a whole human no matter where I am. What I have had to do is try to downplay my race, do my hair so that its acceptable, and leave my un-serving ideas outside of the work environment.

You see we do show up authentic. We don’t leave half of who we are when we go to work. The fact of the matter is, whether or not you accept my authentic self, I can't change those things about me. Nor am I willing to play down my authentic self so that you can feel comfortable.

One of my favorite quotes, from Marianne Williamson expresses this thought so eloquently...

"Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone, and as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

When we can bring the strengths and weaknesses, language, religion, ideas, culture, background and all those things that make us successful at home to work…well then, we show up as whole, authentic people.

I read an article on code switching during my downtime, that talked about the balancing act black leaders have to maintain if we are to be successful at work.

That balancing act means 50% of my true self shows up at work as I try to balance a linguistic and cultural performance that is necessary if I am to be successful.

Don’t get me wrong, I have perfect command of the King’s English, and norms of the majority culture…but in my comfort zones I can be the girl of my peeps.

As Jennifer Lopez of the famous Jenny from the block said, I can be, “Loni from the Block.”

I have been told many times in my career that, "you are so articulate," or "you can be really aggressive," both code words for "you don't talk black, but you act like an angry black woman."

Here's the thing. I'm not angry. Black women can be strong without being angry. Black women can be assertive, without being aggressive. And I can talk and understand my peeps when necessary.

It's an interesting phenomenon in this modern day of inclusive work cultures, that we are asked to bring our authentic self into the workplace, so long as long as my authentic self looks like your authentic self.

If we are going to get to the "reformation" that both Martin Luther's fought for, it starts with recognizing that we all come from different cultural backgrounds, and since I have spent time learning that of the dominant culture, we can get there if others could spend a few minutes each day in the workplace getting to know people whose authenticity is different from their authenticity.

And, if we remember, authenticity it's a cultural thang!


"And So It Goes...." is a weekly blog post and podcast. We welcome the voices of all people. Interested in writing or being on our podcast, let us know.

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