Authentic or realistic?

The four intersecting dimensions of my life interests and my work are: culture, education, sustainability and digital. This makes it tricky to define my offer within a world of work that can be highly specialised. Moreover, each of these four dimensions are big, multivalent categories and, what’s more, they are all contested. To simplify, the contestation can be seen in  binary: The meanings people become attached to for each of these terms are either ‘authentic’ or ‘realistic’. By this attachment to meanings, I mean the differing ways we see potential for world-making, or change, restoration or salvation in these dimensions. People with an attachment to authenticity prefer to define these dimensions as organic, inclusive and emergent. Those with an attachment to ‘realism’ prefer to define them as ordered, limited and institutionalised. So to give examples for each:

Meanings of ‘culture’
Authentic: symbolisation or patterning that arises from and distinguishes groupings of people, especially those that share a habitat.
Realistic: institutions and practices that nurture, protect and extract value from the most iconic or valued outputs of cultural groups, or individuals.

Meanings of ‘education’
Authentic: The acculturation of people by drawing out novices through parenting or training, by modelling skills and wisdom.
Realistic: Institutions and formal practices which provide authority to deliver a curriculum and accredit pupils on its reception.

Meanings of ‘sustainability’
Authentic: Ensuring that we can meet the needs of the present without jeopardising the ability of future generations and other life forms to meet their own needs.
Realistic: Sustaining institutions  (e.g. family or business) through measures such as austerity, resilience and environmentally sustainable practices.

Meanings of ‘digital’
Authentic: Emergent technologies, access to which should be a common good and which in turn enable the spread of common consciousness.
Realistic: Technologies that are implements of control and desire, enabling institutions to spread messages, gather knowledge and make money.

Most of us live with both sets of meanings because if we didn’t co-operate with institutions, we’d find it hard to make a living. Even many institutions want to combine both, to potentialise learning or culture or technology as much as they can for the common good, while also needing to maintain their authority, limits, brand and revenue. The dream is to do both as successfully as possible. As a consultant, I find myself in an interesting position, navigating the two paths of realism and authenticity, trying to help organisations fulfil the dream of doing both successfully. I suspect that where there is conflict in any organisation it is centred on the crossroads of these two paths. Personally I’m drawn very much to an authentic path. My dream is that the authentic becomes the new reality. That adds an extra challenge in working with my colleagues in Flow, not because they don’t have a similar attachment to authenticity, but because in working with clients, we have to share and acknowledge the demands on them in surviving in our institutionalised world.


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