After my mom ghosted us, my dad struggled to raise myself and my brother. Then he remarried and started his own consultancy business. Over time, the hand-me-down clothes were exchanged for clothes from discount stores and, eventually, we began shopping at the local mall. It was slow but certain progress.
One Christmas during this financial transition, my stepmom received a mink coat. As surprising as this was, I was stunned speechless when she opened a set of matching mink earmuffs. My stepmom was overjoyed with the gifts “she’d always wanted,” but I couldn’t rectify our recent family financial history with such extravagance.
My confusion turned to teenage embarrassment when my stepmom decided to wear her new fur coat and earmuffs to church that Sunday. Showing off a mink coat at church seemed abhorrent to me. Wasn’t humility a virtue? I was certain we were going to be laughed out of church. I was wrong.
While waiting for services to begin, I watched my stepmom chatting and laughing with a group of women. The others seemed oblivious to my stepmom’s mink ensemble, which she still wore even though the church was well heated. As I watched, a pattern emerged. One woman gestured broadly with ring-infested hands. Another woman flipped her hair incessantly, exposing her diamond-clad earlobes. Another woman, not decked out like the others, couldn’t take her eyes off of her cup of coffee, yet she nodded her agreement and laughed on cue.
I was witnessing Hypocrisy 101 and it felt like crushing disappointment. I wasn’t immediately able to identify why I was so upset; it wasn’t the mink coat as such. But, over time, I came to realize that these women had proudly professed adherence to a specific set of values, which included a rejection of vanity, while their behavior contradicted those values. They were fake. Not one of them was living authentically. I relived this scene years later when I read the scene in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged in which Lillian Rearden hosts an anniversary party. The ostentatious women at my church, vying for attention, would have fit right in.
One caveat I’ll offer the church ladies is that authenticity is hard work. It requires that we identify who we are, what we believe, and why we believe it. This is particularly tough to do when we are so often pressured by hypocrisy.
So, how do we learn to live authentically?
Rand says that we must “live consciously.” This means: Take the time to self-analyze. Pay attention to our behavior and, when it falls out of line with our fundamental values, own it in order to change it. Once we start to live consciously, we can implement our values daily.
Then comes the real payday—dignity. As Magatte Wade, owner of Tiossan, a company founded on the concept of authenticity, explains: “Dignity, honor, and courage are a result of authenticity . . . and dignity is, I think, the biggest need of man, as humanity. I would rather not eat and conserve my dignity rather than eat and not have it.”
Virginia Murr works in publishing and development at The Atlas Society. She was previously a program director at Spark Freedom and director of operations at the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship. A professional editor, she has also taught Karate for several decades and is the mother of three daughters.
William Thomas, “The Morality of Money.” June 2002.
Roger Donway, “Self-Help: Egostists vs. Egoists.” June 18, 2010.
William Thomas, “What Really Matters: Putting Social Status in Context.” July 7, 2011.