Arts, On Campus, Column

Masking Your ‘Authentic’ At BC

Authenticity shouldn’t be confined to the discussions of social justice we have in our small group reflections or faith on spiritual retreats.

The scariest thing about Halloween this weekend wasn’t the bloody zombie bride in front of me at Late Night, the Mod-ful of Disney villains running around with a red Jell-O heart on a platter, or even the “Super Putin-Russia” costume that one of my best friends put together for his party on Saturday night.

It was the realization that a lot of us at Boston College never really take the masks off.

Halloween lasts two or three days at most, but we end up in disguises, pretending to be something that we’re not, nearly every week, every semester, every year that we’re here. Even after we tuck the face paint and wigs away in our dorm room closets at the close of each October, we’re still not always ourselves. We’re still not always real, not always genuine.

We’re a school that places a lot of value in authenticity, but often doesn’t know how that characteristic translates into our daily lives. The Jesuit ideals at the base of the University’s education encourage us to go on retreats and to join various volunteer groups and campus ministry programs—to do things that make a difference and to talk about them in meaningful ways. We’re given the impression that that kind of service and reflection is a huge part of what makes us most human.

We’re supposed to be men and women for others, but I think we need to learn to be ourselves first. BC students spend hours each week working with Boston’s homeless population, tutoring children in math and reading, and visiting the elderly in nursing homes. We spend our spring breaks building houses for those who need the help, and then spend 10 days a year traveling and learning about poverty in countries like Nicaragua, Mexico, and Jamaica. We spend all this time, locally and internationally, trying to find “solidarity”—trying to find ourselves—in other communities and take only an hour or two a week to think about these experiences and be real with our peers when we’re on campus. The disconnect between who we are in these settings and who we are in our regular routines makes our lives anything but genuine.

Authenticity shouldn’t be confined to the discussions of social justice we have in our small group reflections, of faith on spiritual retreats, or of individuality in Authentic Eagles posts online. We shouldn’t need a defined time and space to be ourselves. We’re all people, and that’s how we should act. Authenticity should be  intrinsic and natural, not something we try out for size every once in a while.

I don’t mean to degrade the outlets we have at BC that give us an opportunity to be open and vulnerable. Talking about things that matter or that are personal can be terrifying, and as a member of quite a few of these on campus groups, I recognize that challenge. I do think, though, that the way we understand authenticity right now—as something limited to a particular set of people, at a specific time, in a set place—is a solution that’s only making the problem worse. We need to stop looking at it as a part of who we are, and instead, as who we are—a whole, complete, and real person.

Authenticity is not a Halloween costume—to be paraded about and made a show of. We have to learn not to think of it as something that we should commend and praise on special occasions, because that kind of attitude takes away from authenticity’s very essence. The more we dress it up, the less real it becomes. If we’re not careful, it might end up being little more than a mask—and there’s nothing more frightening than that.

Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Photo Illustration

November 2, 2014