Being Authentic in a Virtual World

May 20, 2020

Are you familiar with the term “trompe l’oeil”? Neither was I, but my wife who is much more creative and artistic than I clued me in to its meaning. Trompe l’oeil (pronounced trômp ˈloi) is a style of painting that is so realistic it appears to be three-dimensional. It’s how theater and movie set designers create realistic sets and backdrops. Perhaps you have seen it in a more creative way by sidewalk artists that create such realistic 3D renderings that passersby swear they are about to step into deep chasm or drop off a cliff. In French, trompe l’oeil means “fools the eye,” from tromper, “to deceive,” and l’oeil, “the eye.”

The skill and talent that a trômp ˈloi artist uses to fool the eye is quite amazing, an ability most of us will never have. But there is a much more common skill that all of us are more than capable of employing…many, in fact, are quite accomplished at it. All of us have an innate desire to be seen in a better light, a more favorable appearance, than what may be real or authentic. Call it counterfeit, bogus, hypocrisy, or just plain “BSing”…whatever moniker we choose, it is at its essence pretending something is legitimate when it is not. Let’s face it, the image that we project to the watching world is often what want others to see rather than what is actually the reality. We pretend in order to mask reality.

I thought of this recently during one of many virtual zoom meetings and sessions held over the past two months of Covid-19 matrix living. I had to record a video podcast, so had on a nice collared shirt that would be captured in the frame. However, rather than wear a matching pair of khakis, I was instead wearing a comfortable old pair of shorts hidden outside the camera’s eye. Now, while there was not an intent to be misleading, the irony of talking about being authentic while wearing gym shorts and flip flops was not lost on me. I wanted to portray an image of professionalism, but in reality was being a bit of a slacker. In that case, there was no harm or ill will, but often when we choose to project an illusion over reality, there can be incredible consequences.

I’m no psychologist, but I’ve lived long enough to know that when the practice of hypocrisy becomes a consistent pattern or a character trait, it can be devastating to relationships, both personal and professional. It causes a lack of trust and inability to have true or lasting commitments. Maybe it works for a season, a moment, a near-term objective but ultimately, it ends in disappointment. Phony things do not have lasting value. Those that practice personal “trompe l’oeil” will never have the full trust, respect, and admiration of others. People may be fooled initially, but ultimately the truth becomes apparent.

Characteristics of an inauthentic person:

  • Exaggerate their accomplishments and want to make sure others see how great they are
  • Focus on building themselves up by tearing others down
  • Tend toward passive aggressive or even hostile behaviors toward those that challenge them
  • Don’t learn from their mistakes and lack self-awareness
  • Focused on “stuff” over intrinsic things like relationships
  • People pleasers, one-uppers, attention grabbers
  • Hidden agendas and avoid honest criticism or differing viewpoints
  • Sarcastic or hostile sense of humor

Conversely, those that are genuine, authentic, and transparent generally experience the exact opposite. You and I are naturally attracted to and trust authentic people – whether we agree or disagree with them on any number of issues – we respect people that are “real”. Think of someone you really respect, someone that has had a major influence on your life. I would wager that one of their key attributes is authenticity and integrity. They exude an aura that simply says, ‘what you see is what you get’.

Characteristics of an authentic person:

  • Have a very good sense of self-awareness and grounded in reality
  • Are accepting of themselves and other people
  • Thoughtful and introspective
  • Non-hostile sense of humor – avoid sarcasm and belittling
  • Express their thoughts and emotions freely and clearly
  • No hidden agendas – no guessing what they “really mean”
  • Open to honest criticism and learn from their mistakes
  • Motivated by core principles that do not waver

Comfortable around all sorts of people – not easily threatened by their surroundings

In this age of virtual presence, social media influence, and an apparent trend toward an illusionary life, its worth asking ourselves just how honest we are in how we present ourselves to the world. Are we sacrificing personal integrity and trust for the instant gratification that comes from a being a “trompe l’oeil’ artist in life? Maybe you have difficulty sustaining a career or relationships, maybe it seems like you can never get ahead in life? Ask someone you really trust to be honest with you. It may be a lot less with who you are, and lot more to do with who you are pretending to be

Tim Raglin

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