Monday, February 19, 2007


Recently I headed to the gym at 5:20 a.m., as I often do. Sometime near the end of my sweaty cardio and strength-training routine, I noticed a cotton seam along my right shoulder and realized my tank top had been inside-out the entire time.

Now, I care very little about the condition of my clothing at a gym before sunrise, providing that it is at least not in tatters or too smelly. Others might have recoiled in horror and rushed to the locker room. I shrugged it off, wondering if anyone could adequately attire themselves at such an early hour and continued my stretching.
But it got me thinking.

Inside-out. We tend not to present ourselves in such a manner, at least not in a dignified sense; talk-shows and trash TV are full of uncritical thinkers who display their internal malaise for all to absorb. But the truly substantive perspectives and vulnerabilities that traverse along the inside—these are hindered by peer-or-self-inflicted pressures, and an all-consuming image awareness made ubiquitous by a market-driven society.

In his new book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, Philip Yancey notes how the Japanese have two words that help describe this dynamic of being one person on the outside and someone else within: tatemae and hon ne, respectively. Our culture has various terms for each as well—such as “false and authentic,” “front and raw.” Sometimes, we just carelessly toss out the declaration “hypocrite” to dismiss the whole dualistic dynamic.

The application of this last word does more harm than good; the one who publicity utters it should pause and examine the length of his own delta between the tatemae and the hon ne. There are forces, both internal and external, that compel each of us to, at some degree, feel we must make a choice between the two.

I wonder if my freedom to wear a tank top inside-out could encourage others to do the same. Now, I’m not really trying to start a revolution in this niche; perhaps it is a simplistic or even silly metaphor. But sweaty athletic attire aside, I wonder about the correlation between my degree of “safety” in authenticity and the sense of safety experienced by the person in front of me.

What I am trying to say is that authenticity breeds authenticity, even if results in the other person take time to materialize. Your bold decision to “keep it real” creates a healthy space where someone else can let their hon ne hang out all over the place. The decision is chosen with each encounter, and as authenticity builds momentum will become more natural. Each person who enters into this conspiracy of authenticity infects someone else, eventually transforming entire groups of persons and entire organizations.

This blog in which I occasionally make actual entries (!) is titled "Toward Authenticity." I dare not lay audacious claim to having destroyed the delta between my tatemae and hon ne, but am hopeful that I am at least journeying toward the proper destination. We are nudged a little closer by each transparent person we encounter, and the delta shrinks like brand-new cotton workout attire.

Who do you know who helps you to be "inside-out?"


At 1:13 PM , Blogger Marcia Ford said...

My daughters keep me authentic. At 23 and soon-to-be 19 (on Thursday), they keep me real like no one else. Oh, and an inside-out shirt wouldn't even be noticed in their demographic. The way you wear your clothes is just the way you wear your clothes.

And yes, a month is way too long between blogs. :-)

At 8:21 AM , Blogger John Michael De Marco said...

What can I say? My full-time job keeps getting in the way!


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