Earlier today, I saw a video of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answering a question at a press conference. That aspect of the video wasn’t unique – I’m sure Trudeau answers reporters’ questions all the time, and clips of his answers often make their way onto the internet (“Because it’s 2015”, anyone?). The content of Trudeau’s response, however, was unique. As Yahoo! reports, he was at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and responded to a question about quantum computing by giving a detailed explanation of quantum mechanics.
His answer did seem a bit rehearsed; his smiles in between sentences suggested that he had perhaps expected the question, and knew the attention his answer would receive. Still, it was just an answer about quantum mechanics – rehearsed, expected, or otherwise. Some people have accused Trudeau of taking advantage of the moment, now dubbed #quantumgate, for political gain. And so what if he did? Is it really such a shock that someone wasn’t genuine? I don’t think so.
I try not to listen to Donald Trump supporters because they make me lose faith in the world, but when I do come across statements from them explaining why they support Trump they almost always remark that he is honest. It’s true, I guess. Trump says what’s on his mind; even if what’s on his mind is horribly discriminatory or racist. He argues that because his campaign is self-funded (a fact John Oliver does a great job of essentially disproving in this video), he’s free to say not what his financial backers want, but what he wants. He’s free to be genuine, though he mostly just comes across as genuinely terrible.
As a society, we hold political leaders to a high standard. We want them to be genuine, but not so unrehearsed that they’re literally flying by the seat of their pants. I’d argue that we demand the same thing of celebrities. There are outcrys when celebrities are airbrushed, when their most genuine self is not presented to us in all of its glossy, magazine cover glory; but sometimes, when a celebrity breaks out of their societally-defined character and does something “crazy”, we bemoan them and wonder where humanity has gone wrong.
Take Miley Cyrus for example. A lot of people grew up watching her on Hannah Montana, so that’s the character we expect her to play in real life, too. When she began twerking at the VMAs and dressing eccentrically (read: in a way that doesn’t meet societal norms), she was arguably expressing her true self – but critical ex-fans decided it was a act, and that she wasn’t being genuine. It’s a complicated distinction, and one which can be boiled down from politicians and celebrities.
Are we, as individuals, genuine in our expression of ourselves? In a way, it’s easier for us: we don’t have to craft an answer about quantum computing to impress a global audience, or make our real life actions match those of a character we once played on television. But we still have impressions to make and people to please, and despite that little voice inside of our head squeaking “Be yourself!”, we sometimes end up portraying ourselves as anything but our true selves.
I think social media plays a large role in this. We pose for pictures, throw the Valencia filter on them, and post them on Instagram. We edit our thoughts into a 140 character box, and react to our friend’s statuses with one of six predisposed emotions. It’s not impossible to be genuine on social media – some people express their truest selves online, and are incredibly genuine in their online interactions – but it can be difficult.
I honestly feel like “Be yourself” is one of the most overused pieces of advice, but it is also one of the most overlooked and ignored. Our online lives might be full of filters, but I think we should make an effort to live our real lives with #nofilter. We should also try to be more accepting people who are already doing this, whether they’re a Prime Minister explaining complex scientific concepts or a celebrity posing with their tongue out.
I wrote a post back in February about the existential crisis-inducing question, “Who are you?”. You can’t be yourself if you don’t know who you are, but it’s hard to know who you are in this crazy world of ours. And of course, even when you are being yourself, some people will take it upon themselves to question you – as people have already begun doing for Justin Trudeau. Genuine can be hard to come by in the 21st century, but it is, like most things in life, what we make of it.