The Tale of Two Dorm Rooms: The Lack of Authenticity in America

Building out of the norm....

During my senior year of high school, I visited several colleges and universities across the country during my “college search.” At each one, I met with admissions counselors, sat in on classes, and took campus tours. Many of the campus tours included visiting (or staying the night in) a dorm room.

On one particular college visit, the other prospective students and I on the campus tour were taken not into an actual dorm room dwelt in by actual students, but into a “model dorm room.” This room (much like the one pictured above) was setup to look like an actual dorm room: not only did it have desks, chairs, beds, etc; it also had a wall posters, tshirts hanging in the closet, toiletries on the counter, and even an open textbook with notes written in a notebook. Basically, it was setup to look like students lived there, but no one actually did. It was all staged. 

“Everything is so Fake”

Donny Deutsch, the advertising guru, was recently featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In his interview, Leno asked for his opinions on Beyonce, Lance, and Te’o. Deutsch kept circling back to a common theme found throughout those stories: “We are losing authenticity everywhere in society. Everything is so fake.” (see the whole interview: Part 1 || Part 2)

In other words, our culture is suffering from a lack of authenticity. From the “steroid era” in baseball (resulting in a records book full of asterisks and no Hall of Fame class for 2013), Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend scandal, and Lance Armstrong’s doping debacle (resulting in the collapse of his cycling empire) to Beyonce lip-synching the National Anthem at Obama’s 2013 Inauguration and Photoshopped images everywhere we look, society is permeated by falsified realities. Even the way we portray ourselves online is often an overly-idealized version of who we are.

Putting on Masks

What effects is this having on Americans? On an individual level, it leads to discontent ranging from body image to personal achievements. These feelings, when acted upon, lead to relationships and lifestyles tainted by hypocrisy. In fact, the word hypocrisy comes from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means “jealous”, “play-acting”, “acting out”, “coward” or “dissembling”. It was used to describe the masks that the players in Greek theater used to dramatize certain roles. Since actors typically played more than one role, they indicated their role by holding a mask in front of their face.

Of course, relationships based on false assumptions usually don’t end well (*cough* Manti Te’o *cough*) which only leads to more personal discontent and, ironically, more personal “retouching.” This creates a vicious cycle of counterfeited projections that damage not only the individual, but society as whole.

“Keepin’ It Real”

What, then, is the solution? Let’s return to Donny Deutsch for the answer: “We need some authenticity in the world. We need to make it real.”

How do we go about doing this? Leadership theorist Lance Secretan puts it this way: “Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing – consistently.” Here are some tips to make this happen:

  • Be comfortable with yourself- you’ve been uniquely created with a unique set of talents, passions, and physical and emotional characteristics. Embrace who you are and stop trying to be someone you are not. (Of course, strive for self-improvement, but have realistic goals based on your uniqueness and not society’s often unattainable pressures)
  • Be vulnerable with others- build relationships based on trust and authenticity, not lies and deceit. Be willing to let others into your life: your successes, struggles, dreams, and aspirations. The more real you are with others, the more authentic they typically are with you. (Of course, make sure that your level of vulnerability is appropriate for the depth of the relationship; otherwise, things can get awkward really fast)
  • Be content with your situation- yes, things could always be better, but always find things to be thankful for that you already have. (For more on contentment, read my post about Aron Ralston, the explorer who had to cut off his own arm to survive)

Real Dorm Rooms, Real People

Now let me finish my story about the “model dorm room.” Obviously, I didn’t end up going to that school, the fake room being one of the major contributing factors. When I visited the college I eventually attended, John Brown University, I encountered something entirely different. There were no “model dorm rooms,” “model classrooms,” or any other “models.” The guys that I spent the night with (in a real dorm room) were real guys with real lives being real with each other.  The night I happened to be there was also the night they had their weekly devotion time with each other. Instead of asking me to leave, they invited me in as they discussed Scripture together, shared victories and struggles with each other, and prayed for each other (and me). While this wasn’t the only thing that attracted me to JBU, it definitely played a role in my final college decision.

We all crave authenticity from the people, business, and brands we interact with. Start the movement by being an authentic person yourself.

Have tips for building authenticity? Share them in the Comments below.

Learn It. Love It. Live It.

[image credit: vhmh on Flickr]


About Lawson Hembree
Lawson is an entrepreneur, ministry leader, and outdoors enthusiast who also enjoys blogging about business, ideas, and theology. Want to continue the discussion or write a guest post? Let's Connect!

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