October 19, 1997

The Real Thing

Coke used the slogan “It’s the real thing.” But then Coke had the fiasco when they changed the formula to make it sweeter, so for awhile it was no longer “the real thing.”

I like to know if I am getting the real thing when I buy something. I am not into labels, but I do not want some cheap imitation that will fall apart, whether it be a tool or a running shoe. I want to know what I am getting.

A stage show, the theater, is a little different. We expect actors to be playing a role, and even though it may seem true to life if they do a good job, we know that they are acting. A good acting job, while not real, is the real thing.

I went to see Rob Becker in “Defending the Caveman” at the Wilbur Theater in Boston. “Defending the Caveman” is a very funny one man show by a comedian about the difference of the sexes. At first I was bothered by the presentation by Becker. His speech pattern was often sing-songy and he sometimes spoke too fast. His movements about the stage were awkward. At many times I thought that a little theatrical presentation would add to the show. He had performed this show over two thousand times, so why was he not smooth and polished? This is what I expect on a stage when I pay big money for a ticket.

Somewhere in the middle of the show, I got it. My mind caught on. I saw that what he was doing was being himself. He was not acting. He was delivering a set piece on a stage, but he was doing it completely as himself, with all of his warts and limitations. He was being authentic. This authenticity brought a whole different level of meaning to the material and I connected to him in an intimate way. Here was a guy who was telling me his truths. Here was a guy who I could trust and understand.

The surprise in all of this was that the real thing turned out not to be the real thing at all. I was expecting a performance and I viewed Becker as an object to be judged. But when it turned out that he was not acting, I found myself in relationship with a person and not an object. The real thing was not the theatrics, but was Becker himself.

I was surprised by authenticity once before. I attended a one day workshop in Cambridge. The topic is unimportant. The presenter, Alan, did not have any of the right moves down. I have been to many workshops, and I have led a few, and he just did not have his patter down. He mumbled and he stumbled. He admitted not knowing the answers to some questions. He just was himself, and when I got over all of his selfhood spilling out, I could see what a wonderful teacher he was. I learned the material and he taught me about being authentic.

I was taught to not be authentic when dealing with other people. This did not mean lying. It means that I would concentrate on providing what they needed to see in me so that they would approve. My interactions would improve if I just improved my skills and figured out what they want. Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” I was a player. If I was good at it, the right people would like me, I would have friends, I would get the job, I would win the client, and I would close the sale.

It is hard to be authentic. It is hard for me to put myself out there with my strengths and weaknesses. My blemishes show. But I am finding it harder to be inauthentic. Actors are pretty weary after a show. A lot of energy is expended being anything other than what you are. As I age, I cannot afford that energy loss anymore. I also have lost my patience. I want the real thing all of the time. Anything less is a fraud. I want to be with real people and in order to do that I must be real. Real people attract real people.

Shakespeare was wrong. We are not “players.” We are funny looking creatures, in different shapes, with different voices. We are accumulations of warts, blemishes, quirks and stories. But when we present our uniqueness in an authentic way, it lowers our walls and it draws us together. And we get what we wanted all along - the real thing.

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