Are You a Phony?

Megyn Kelly the former anchor turned morning show host recently recalled a conversation with Roger Ailes who told her she had an “authenticity problem.” Whether you agree or disagree with her perceived politics is not what I care about here. What troubled me instantly was the sense that a growing number of people (including myself) in an effort to impress others, avoid fights and seem agreeable have this same problem.

“Viewers can spot a phony from a mile away,” Megyn recalled Ailes telling her. In her book, she said she grappled with this issue. “Why can’t I make friends more easily? Why don’t more women want to be around me? I had been so busy for so many years building up a protective veneer that it didn’t dawn on me that I might be alienating others—from viewers to potential friends.” Vanity Fair

I grew up in a world where people assumed other people had differing opinions (sometimes radically differing), yet everyone managed to understand that listening to extreme and opposing ideas was often a good thing. It either alerted us to the holes in our arguments or sharpened them. The notion that some ideas could not be tolerated was frowned upon and seen as immature.

A few times online I have stumbled into debates about heated issues. My experience was telling and common. In each case as soon as I stepped out of line to one side or the other I was demonized. As some of you know my mantra is that we’re all flawed. This is now seen as an extremist sentiment.

I believe what I’m supposed to think is that most of us are victimized .  Not all of us, mind you. There are those people—those people we won’t talk about here who painted masterpieces and invented light bulbs and semiconductors, worked 18 hours a day picking cotton, died to end slavery or for civil rights and wrote The Bill of Rights etc. Okay I will say it. MEN. Can we stop the silly hatred of them?

We are all victims of fate. We didn’t choose where or when to be born. If I’m going to admire anyone it’s going to be the person who actively overcomes their fated victimization, the person who is heroic. What is heroism? Is it posting a paragraph or two about injustice? Is it wearing a t-shirt or slapping a bumper-sticker on your car? I often wonder at the people so eaten up by hate that they choose to show the Christian symbol of the fish being devoured by Darwin. Isn’t it enough for these people to be at peace with their own beliefs? Why be so provoking? But I’m fine with them ruining the look of their car if they want to. I’d never think of demanding they stop.

A verse comes to mind: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead.” Matthew 23:27

Another story I heard recently was about a professor who was discussing a “sensitive” topic. He was baffled by the students’ lack of participation until a “brave” student confessed that she was afraid to offend anyone. The professor asked for a show of hands. “How many of you have been doing the same thing?” The entire class raised their hands.

Bravery and creativity don’t usually thrive in group-think situations. Here’s my confession: I often lack authenticity. I want to be liked by strangers. I worry if book sales will stop because I mention I believe in Jesus and that I had a conversion experience I can’t explain. I say glib things to seem clever and modern. I have difficulty making female friends. BUT . . .

I know in these moments of weakness there is nothing brave or satisfying about being cowardly. There’s nothing uplifting or fulfilling in claiming your victim card. It’s such a hollow victory. It leaves you mired in misery. I know this from experience.

Most people seem to sense that we’re here on this planet to be more than victims. It’s why we fantasize about being heroes or at least tagging along with one.

In MY NOVELS I don’t quite have perfect heroes. I know some exist, but in my world most of us are saddled with baggage, scars of our upbringing, societal preferences that make us feel inferior, an unbridled need to be liked, etc. What makes my characters heroes to me is that throughout their long existences they keep trying to get it right. Often they get things terribly wrong. Their maddening like the real people I know. Like me. But they are active. On some level, though they rarely admit it, they think they are made for something better–something heroic if only quietly heroic.

My heroes are the ones saddled with poverty, addiction, abuse, neglect and cowardice. They are the people who lose everything and still get up the next day. Bitter moments, even bitter years, plague us all but love saves the day. It saves lives—all lives. Authentic love forces us to think of others first. It forces us to see the beating heart behind the opinion we think is ludicrous. Love is not just for the people we agree with and not just for those of us with authenticity problems.

What about you? Are you authentic? Do you have any advice for those of us who can sometimes be slaves to our desire for approval?

***Featured Image: Vanity by Frank Cadogan Cowper (1907)







12 responses to “Are You a Phony?”

  1. I can’t believe no one has commented on this yet. It’s one of the biggest problems in online interactions, where we can present ourselves as anything we want to be seen as, so inauthenticity is kind of baked into the pie, right?

    But as a writer, like you, I’m always a little afraid that I’ll cut off a potential audience for my books by shooting my mouth off in a way they don’t like. Sometimes, especially these days, I can’t help myself — c’est la vie. I do try to be mainly honest about who I am, though, and when confronted with ideas I disagree with I try to be civil in getting a debate off the ground.

    For instance, I’d never judge anyone for their faith based on an unexplainable experience. I’m an atheist for reasons that might be hard for someone else to get, but my personal experience got the ball rolling and that’s who I am. I’m pretty sure we can have a discussion that wouldn’t upset one another.

    Thanks for posting this. It’s an important theme in this here and now we all find ourselves in.


    • Yes, I wouldn’t want to scare off customers 🙂

      I try to be honest as well–and friendly– but there is a very low threshold for civil discussion and debate. Everyone must remain on their little islands where everyone thinks the same and their opinions aren’t challenged. I’m happy to change my opinion if I find new and better info. The exchange of ideas can be a challenge to one’s patience if you’re passionate about something but I don’t automatically assume that someone who disagrees with me is stupid. I understand that there are different ways of seeing the world.

      I doubt the world’s vast and complex problems will be solved by a hashtag or in the comments section of a big blog anyway. It makes us feel like we’ve done something important when we post something like “Praying for the victims of…”
      Good old Jesus advised his followers to pray in secret to avoid the temptation of doing it for show. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment. I totally appreciate it when someone with a different worldview feels comfortable to express it here.

      BTW, I’ve been doing a series of guest posts on Family History (real and imagined). If you’re ever interested in being featured, let me know.

      All the best~


      • Thanks for offering me a Family History feature, Adrienne! I’ll have to review some of the earlier ones and see if I have anything in my bag o’ tricks that might fit.

        Meanwhile, keep on keepin’ on … 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, you bring up for me the tough topic of self-censorship. Thinking of those who read my blog who may react negatively to my truth. Ugh. I usually plunge ahead anyway. I respect those of us who do. But it does make cocktail parties tough:).


    • i think cocktail parties may be easier since there’s the face to face communication with hopefully some nuance.

      I was once verbally thrown off a site for saying I thought all humans were flawed and no one group had a monopoly on evil. The person who told me “I didn’t belong here” wasn’t even the person who ran the blog! I thought that was funny. I try to stay true to myself but the climate is so polarized sometimes it’s hard no to have second thoughts about sharing a personal opinion.

      Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to spending some time reading around your site.


      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow this post is absolutely amazing. I agree with everything you said here. I have personally found that stepping outside the “accepted bounds” of debate (whatever that may be on) will quickly be vilified, both in real life and on the internet. And a lot of the time it’ll be something as simple as defending men from being attacked just for being men. Too quickly, people resort to namecalling (one of my personal favourite of these often rather creative insults is being told I have “internalised misogyny”, because I’m a woman who doesn’t view themselves as oppressed).

    I’ve also seen a number of professors coming out now saying that most of their class are too afraid of offending someone, so they won’t say anything anymore (and while I think that the culture is somewhat different over here in the UK, I would say that the attitudes in class and in political circles on campus are very similar)

    I love what you said about groupthink as well- there seems to be this crazy idea that if people have a different opinion it’s somehow offensive. Difference is often celebrated in our culture (as it should be) but not difference of opinion.

    I fundamentally agree with you about the issue with playing the victim card too. Nor do I believe that people who encourage others to perpetually play the victim have people’s best interests at heart- to paraphrase Dr Jordan Peterson, they’re the sort of people that want to keep you weak and what psychologists are supposed to do is make you strong. Incidentally one of the very first thing victims of abuse learn is, to use the corniest phrase imaginable, that they are “victors not victims”.

    I absolutely love what you said here and this is one of the best pieces I’ve seen in a while 😀 Sorry for the long comment!


    • I love that you took the time to write this!

      Telling someone they suffer from “internalized misogyny” is so presumptuous. Can someone else actually get into your heart and head? It’s just a way to cow people into submission and an insult to our intelligence.

      You can only dare to be “different” if it’s the approved kind (what kind of virtue-signaling apparel should we wear today? :)) I have nothing against blue hair but if everyone’s doing it then it’s no longer cutting edge.

      I admire Jordan Peterson’s work. 🙂 My son and daughter-in-law are a little obsessed with him. We live in a very interesting time.

      Is it true that there are laws in the UK making it a crime to speak certain things? I’m definitely afraid of that trend.

      My children were once forced to take a class that basically coached them to report hate speech to the authorities. The example they gave was if you overheard someone talking about their religion at a different lunch table and it offended you you were allowed to turn the offending student in!!! Insane.

      Okay, I could go on but I’ll let you go.
      Always happy to chat with a kindred spirit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you!

        I know- I can’t believe how ridiculous it is. Ironically they’re the ones collectivising everyone, by insisting all women *have to* think a certain way and that if you don’t there’s something wrong with you.

        hehe yes precisely! As my brother says, everyone has to be a politician now, so no one can just say what they’re thinking, it has to be polished and line up with everyone else’s soundbites. And haha yes!!

        Oh that’s wonderful! hehe I can really relate- I’m definitely obsessed too. I’m completely gripped by his work and have got a lot of my family into him too. Have you seen any of his lecture series? They’re phenomenal!! I love that he’s become such a prominent public figure in certain circles 😀

        Yes there have been hate speech laws a while and they’re getting stricter about enforcing them. They’re so vague that it’s worrying to see how far they’re being enforced (there’s genuinely people getting arrested for liking FB comments) Plus there’s always the guy who made the Nazi pug joke in Scotland and is facing prison (I’m Jewish and didn’t find it offensive, so I think it’s doubly mad). It’s lunacy. Plus it’ll only get worse.

        Gosh that’s bonkers! I’d say I can’t believe it but I can. There was nothing official like that when I was at uni, but there’s a lot of name calling (which funnily enough, didn’t change my mind 😉 ) One of the most common practices they have in UK unis is to just shame people into agreeing, mostly saying “oh but you’re left wing, you can’t think like that”… it’s no wonder I ended up leaving the left eventually with arguments like that 😉

        hehe me too!! Once I get on this subject it’s hard to stop! It really is so lovely to speak to someone else who gets it!


      • It’s hard to stop because the insanity is invading on every front. Just read that wearing hoop earrings is cultural appropriation. LOL. I plead ignorance here. Who invented hoop earrings?

        Going to college completely turned me against gender and race politics. Everything was so blatant and emotionally driven I was shocked even at that young age. I only took a women’s studies class to improve my GPA. A+ for victimhood. I once wrote a piece about the unfairness of shaving and laughed all the way to a great grade. The poor young men who tried to be sensitive or to get a girl were crucified in that class.

        Once your eyes are opened to this stuff it’s impossible not to see it everywhere. forget science, statistics and common sense. 🙂

        Jordan Peterson’s lectures are pretty great. I like Stefan Molyneux as well. Basially free thinkers interest me.

        I bet we run in similar circles, o-librarian.

        Yes and it’s always so great to find people like you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • hehe what?!?! That’s absolutely bizarre. I mean, why would anyone even care about something like that?

        Me too! In fact, uni is the reason I left the left- so I guess I owe them thanks for opening my eyes 😉 OMG I can’t believe they legitimately had you write a piece on shaving?!! That’s so absurd and a complete waste of time. How do these professors actually think that will help in the job market I wonder? (well obviously they don’t 😉 ) Ah yes, it’s always a nightmare for men in leftie circles, cos they have to basically apologise for existing.

        Yes for sure. hehe and that’s the reason I barely watch any tv anymore, you can’t avoid it (so again lefties are doing me favours 😉 )

        They are! Ah yes, I’ve watched a lot of his stuff too 😉 Same.

        hehe yes! Aww thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I spent years trying to please not, I think, because of being brought up as a girl because girls are supposed to please men etc but because if I spoke my truth, my authentic thoughts and feelings, my bi-polar mother would pounce on me with nasty, opposing comments. I still expect that to happen but it no longer stops me from speaking my mind. I now love myself enough not to need approval from others. I don’t always stick to authenticity but that’s usually a tactical, diplomatic course when speaking to neighbours or the like!


    • I like the last line about being tactical sometimes. So true. I also didn’t feel silenced because I was a girl. My father was a truly loving and kind man but also volatile in his anger. Both parents were highly opinionated and valued that in us (as long as it was “in house”). We were taught to present well to outsiders. 🙂


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