By Laurette Ryan
In our complex world and society, are the rules for living an authentic life starting to change?
To be clear, what I mean by an “authentic life” is a life which has moral, physical, and intellectual balance. We seem to be living in a time of stark contrast and clarity. There are days when this new reality is uncomfortable and confusing, and we wonder where the world is headed.
It can be overwhelming to watch your social media or TV news or to read the paper or a magazine. Our problems seem more prominent than ever before.
The human brain is really not designed or evolved enough for all the information available to us. A couple hundred years ago, most of us only knew about what went on in our village or neighborhood. With today’s technology, we have much more to consider and many more lives to think about. Humans feel the need to embrace or recoil from or to help or destroy everything brought into our conscious awareness.
I have concluded that the answer to how to live an authentic life is found in our relationships with others—not groups, but individual people who might be part of groups. The answer is in listening to understand—not necessarily just to answer—until we have thoughtfully considered another’s feelings on equal standing as our own. We have to see that by acknowledging each other’s divine right to be themselves, we free ourselves to be authentic, as well. The real solution is as old as time—the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The real solution is as old as time—the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Living an authentic life can be scary. We are conditioned to go along with the tribe and not to make others uncomfortable even when we feel uncomfortable. We often don’t voice our true feelings.
I interviewed Charlotte Clymer, whom I view as bravely living her authentic life and standing up for the rights of others to do the same. She is an advocate and the press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. According to its website, “The Human Rights Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation together serve as America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve LGBTQ equality. By inspiring and engaging individuals and communities, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBTQ people and realize a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.”
Clymer’s story is raw, inspiring, and a beacon for others who find themselves struggling to find their way to living a fair, equal, and authentic life.
I asked if she thought the United States was becoming more divided as a nation in 2018, as it often feels that way. Clymer says, “I think it seems that way, but the truth is that we’ve always been starkly divided. Even in prosperous times—say, Eisenhower in the ’50s, Reagan in the ’80s, Clinton in the ’90s—there existed a great divide between an image of the country as strong and successful and the reality for tens of millions of Americans who encountered obstacles that were either ignored or overlooked by the rest of the country.”
She continues, “I think what we’re seeing is that divide come into much clearer focus, which is good! What’s bad is that we haven’t figured out a way to articulate our differences in a meaningful dialogue. Having uncomfortable conversations can be really healthy, but we haven’t put enough effort into having those conversations. It feels like folks are too afraid to hurt fragile citizens who are more comfortable living in models that pander to white supremacy, misogyny, anti-LGBTQ sentiment, xenophobia, et cetera.”
It seems accurate that we see things, both good and bad, more clearly these days. We live in a world where authenticity is not just a concept; it is a dynamic truth that grows daily, in great part thanks to technology. This age of information (and misinformation) and social media means we see each other all the time. We cannot ignore another’s struggle without condemning them to endure it alone. What is needed is a more open-hearted conversation. We are being asked to voice what we stand for, but achieving change means listening to the other side.
Still, Clymer reminds us, “It’s been reinforced for me that progress is often messy. Even in the progressive movement among folks working on the same issue, there can be respectful disagreement on how to move forward. Then, you add folks on Capitol Hill and other coalition partners, then the folks who actually fund our organizations: more often than not everyday Americans. There are a lot of views to negotiate. It’s very easy to be outside of an organization and wonder why it isn’t doing something obvious. It’s far more difficult to be working inside one and see all the pieces, flummoxed as to how to make everyone happy. And the reality is that you can’t. You just do your best and prioritize equality.
“I feel like every progressive organization has its role, and they often overlap. I’m proud of the way HRC educates the public about the obstacles facing LGBTQ people, both in America and around the world, and the way we fight on the ground in campaigns to ensure that candidates who believe in the values of equality win their races. I’m also proud of our collaboration with other organizations. Often, it’s our job to assist the folks at Lambda Legal or NAACP or Planned Parenthood, and it’s one we take seriously. HRC is one of many fantastic organizations around the country fighting for the right of all people to love who they love and work and go to school in spaces without fear of violence or discrimination.”
We live in a world where authenticity is not just a concept; it is a dynamic truth that grows daily, in great part thanks to technology.
Steve Endean founded The Human Rights Campaign Fund in 1980. It was one of the first gay and lesbian political action committees in the United States. Executive director Elizabeth Birch dropped “Fund” from the organization’s name and expanded its reach far beyond political lobbying work in 1995. According to its website, “The Human Rights Campaign envisions a world where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are ensured equality and embraced as full members of society at home, at work, and in every community.”
Clymer is outspoken and forthright. She is the kind of person who you’d want in your corner if your rights were on the line. I inquired on her thoughts about 2019 and beyond. “I want to be proud to live in the United States,” she says. “I want to be proud to be an American. We’ve never had a perfect history, to be sure, but in the past eighteen months, it’s been especially difficult to have pride in who we are as Americans. I hope the political tragedy of this White House will lead to a conversation on aspects of America that have long been overdue for a change. I’m cautiously optimistic. I am very much in the camp that says, ‘Without hope, what is there?’ So, I hope.”
She also posits this critical consideration: “Uncomfortable conversations, ongoing education on good allyship, calling out bigotry in all its forms—a lot of folks don’t want to hear that, of course. If only we could all get along, but in our country’s history, ‘getting along’ has meant those who are oppressed give in to the hatred of those who do the oppressing. We’re not going back to that.”
To be morally, physically, and intellectually authentic in the world requires true adherence to the Golden Rule, listening, uncomfortable conversations, and bravery. All of these things are contagious! Surround yourself with authentic people and live your authentic life.
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Charlotte Clymer is the press secretary for Rapid Response at the Human Rights Campaign, responsible for real-time monitoring and messaging guidance. She supervises other rapid response team members and monitors, researches, and responds to news on LGBTQ-related policy matters. A US Army veteran, her work has appeared on GQ, NBC News, Quartz, and DAME magazine, and her commentary is quoted in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Time, Newsweek, and various other outlets.