During the Texas freeze last month, close friends lost their electricity, so we invited them to stay in our home. We were fortunate to have both power and water throughout that extremely cold week. We have known this couple for over twenty years, and they live nearby. We traveled internationally together, spent summer weeks together in Canada, shared many meals, sat next to each other at sporting events, and talked for hours on many family and community topics. We treasure their friendship and they have become family.
For two days in February, we huddled in our home and conversations flowed. During one evening around our kitchen table, I talked about Barrack Obama’s recent autobiography, A Promised Land. I walk in the early morning hours and recently listened to Obama’s audio book. Last summer during our long drives, my wife and I listened to Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, and I wanted to hear Barrack’s side of their lives together.
I told my friends that I had a greater respect for Obama after reading his autobiography. He was well-versed on the issues of his Presidency, listened to diverse recommendations, and did not rush his decisions. While I did not always agree with his decisions, I stated that he was a competent manager, especially given his lack of executive experience. After I finished speaking, my friend stated that politicians don’t always tell the truth, and I should seek other opinions before coming to my conclusions. I was surprised by her statement, but I did pause to think. Were my conclusions biased after reading his book? Should I have read diverse books or reviews before coming to my conclusions? Were Obama’s writings balanced or self-serving?
The next day, my friend sent me a text message apologizing for her comments and stated that she did not want to diminish my opinions after reading Obama’s book. I love my friend so much and respected her for challenging my statement. I replied that her comments were actually very helpful and taken in a positive light. It caused me to look deeper and seek other reflections in addition to only Obama’s own words and thoughts. I valued her opinions and there was no need to apologize. Listening to differences is what all God’s people should do. I told her to “keep being who you are and speaking from the heart.”
In Charles Taylor’s book The Ethics of Authenticity (Chapters 3-5), published in Leading Lives that Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be (Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass, Editors, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2006, pages 49–59), “he shows us why and how we must talk and reason with each other about the many questions that perplex us about our lives.” Dr. Taylor is a Canadian philosopher and professor emeritus at McGill University. He writes about authenticity in our modern age of individualism and “self-determining freedom. It is the idea that I am free when I decide for myself what concerns me, rather than being shaped by external influences. … Self-determining freedom demands that I break the hold of all such external impositions, and decide for myself alone.”
Taylor believes that authenticity is determined through dialogue with others. “Defining myself means finding what is significant in my difference from others.” Through open discussions, we learn from others and our beliefs are challenged and possibly changed. Looking solely inward for your true self-realization is actually self-destructive. “This gives further force to a general presumption of subjectivism about value: things have significance not of themselves but because people deem them to have it—as though people could determine what is significant, either by decision, or perhaps unwittingly and unwillingly by just feeling that way. This is crazy.”
My views on many issues have changed over time because I read literature, debated issues, and wrestled internally. I suspect (and expect) that for the rest of my life, I will continue to evolve. My evolution progresses because good friends (and many others) challenge me, something Jesus Christ often did with those he encountered. Jesus did it humbly and with love. Taylor articulates this:
“I can define my identity only against the background of things that matter. But to bracket out history, nature, society, the demands of solidarity, everything but what I find in myself, would be to eliminate all candidates for what matters. Only if I exist in a world in which history, or the demands of nature, or the needs of my fellow human beings, or the duties of citizenship, or the call of God, or something else of this order matters crucially, can I define an identity for myself that is not trivial. Authenticity is not the enemy of demands that emanate from beyond the self; it supposes such demands.”