3 years ago I sold my TV, stopped watching the news and limited my exposure to world events to a short daily review of the online papers. Only occasionally would I choose to dig deeper into articles and reports. An unexpected and amazing outcome was how much I still knew despite my retreat. I found I was able to keep up in conversations about current affairs and I even started to get a different and richer new perspective on world affairs, from afar. I was seeing the trees in the wood.
So I was rather surprised to be throwing myself back into the media fray on the day that Jeremy Corbyn was elected the leader of the UK Labour party. I'd heard of this fella from my far away perch. The vibe his leaders election campaign had created had permeated my shell. I knew that he was proving surprisingly popular and that he was a left-winger and that he looked very much like so many dads in the UK - grey haired, kindly and wistful. He even rode a bike and wore bicycle clips.
I was so taken by the announcement of his landslide victory that I decided to log into live news coverage as well as newspaper reporting and the radio. I was having information overload. A news binge.
As I watched and listened there was something curious emerging - the repetitive use of a certain word - used by commentators, politicians, interviewees and presenters. It was a word I was not accustomed to hearing bandied about on mainstream media especially in relation to politics and politicians. It was the word 'Authentic'
As a coach and a group facilitator this word trips off the tongue constantly and is a staple ingredient of the work I undertake - its bread and butter stuff. But to hear the establishment media bandying it about so liberally and freely was a revelation to me.
The basic premise was that Jeremy Corbyn was 'authentic' and that his victory was a consequence of his authenticity. Apparently his campaign was 'authentic' too and it was this that distinguished him from his fellow campaigners. Authenticity had captured the hearts and minds of those he came into contact with and it was this that had created a groundswell of support that had taken him from being a radical outsider to a key competitor. It was said that he was speaking a different language.
I was so taken by the repetitive use of this word that I wanted to see and hear the man himself speak to see how he embodied Authenticity. As luck would have it he had decided on the day of his victory to attend a protest in Whitehall supporting the refugees from Syria. Live coverage captured him as he stood on a makeshift platform and made his first speech as party leader into a tiny (and inadequate) PA system.
It was two thirds of the way through his speech that I started to get the 'authentic' kick. He spoke passionately about the humanity of the crisis and then he said something that I had rarely heard a politician say. He said "Open your hearts, open your minds" He spoke from the heart rather from the head and it was palpable and powerful. I felt goosebumps on my body listening to that phrase, to that plea, to that...authenticity.
I imagined this was what people had responded to in all those election meetings and hustings around the country leading up to his victory. Somehow it cut through the rhetoric and spoke to a deeper part of us, a part that recognises the fundamental human truth in the message. It is simple and direct and moving. And apparently it wins votes.
Stepping back and looking at this landscape I reminded myself how unusual this approach was, how counter cultural. I looked at the political machine and the powers that be and I was amazed that this alternative 'authentic' voice had even gotten this far. And I recognised the high probability that it would be steamrollered and snuffed out at any minute.
The battle between head and heart. The dominance of 'head' - of fear based thinking, of reactive policy making, of strategy over empathy. I see this so often in the challenges my clients present to me and in our group work - individuals held hostage to their head-based-holding-patterns. Repeating the same behaviours based on the same fears and getting the same disappointing results. I have also seen also how the heart can transform this trapped and reductive way of living. How, when we let our hearts inform our heads we can move forward in a radically different way.
But it is a scary proposition -to feel our way to making choices rather than fearing our way to them.
The reason choosing authenticity is still the exception is that it is currently more difficult than the alternative. Being inauthentic is taught, supported and applauded by our society. Individuality is but tolerated - up to a point. Our systems depend on our compliance. Being authentic is a radical and disruptive act. Just like Jeremy.
Are we ready to take the step into what an authentic world would create? Can we even imagine what would be possible if the rules of fitting in were replaced with standing out? We have had glimpses of this - in our own personal worlds and the wider world at large. We can see the dividing lines between the two highlighted by events and thinking globally. We witness eruptions in the old order where new and untested ways are being proposed. Where new and unexpected leaders are emerging. Where new and unexpected solutions are being discussed.
The world order is being reshuffled resulting in unexpected outcomes.
Nobody expected Jeremy Corbyn to succeed. It was a momentary eruption of a new possibility, an unusual victory for authenticity.