“To be authentic is literally to be your own author (the words derive from the same Greek root), to discover your native energies and desires, and then find your own way of acting on them. When you have done that, you are not existing simply to live up to an image posed by the culture or by family tradition or some other authority. When you write your own life, you have played the game that was natural for you to play. You have kept covenant with your own promise.” — Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith,Learning to Lead

Once five fingers stood side by side on a hand. They were all friends. Where one went, the others went. They worked together. They played together. They ate and washed and wrote and did their chores together.

One day the five fingers were resting on a table together when they spied a gold ring lying nearby.

“What a shiny ring!” exclaimed the First Finger.

“It would look good on me,” declared the Second Finger.

“Let’s take it,” suggested the Third Finger.

“Quick! While nobody’s looking!” whispered the Fourth Finger.

They started to reach for the ring when the Fifth Finger, the one named Thumb, spoke up.

“Wait! We shouldn’t do that!” it cried.

“Why not?” demanded the other four fingers.

“Because that ring does not belong to us,” said the Thumb. “It’s wrong to take something that doesn’t belong to you.”

“But who is going to know?” asked the other fingers. “No one will see us. Come on!”

“No,” said the Thumb. “It’s stealing.”

Then the other four fingers began to laugh and make fun of the Thumb.

“You’re afraid!” said the First Finger.

“What a goody-goody,” sang the Second Finger.

“You’re just mad because the ring won’t fit you,” muttered the Third Finger.

“We thought you were more fun than that,” said the Fourth Finger. “We thought you were our friend.”

But the Thumb shook its head.

“I don’t care what you say,” it answered. “I won’t steal.”

“Then you can’t hang around with us,” shouted the other four fingers. “You can’t be our friend.”

So they went off in a group by themselves, and left the Thumb alone. At first they thought the Thumb would follow them and beg them to take it back. But the Thumb knew they were wrong and stood fast.

That is why today the thumb stands apart from the other four fingers.

This charming African folk tale illustrates why it’s so often difficult to be true to ourselves. It generally means we don’t follow the crowd. Standing up and standing firm for our beliefs can be lonely and unpopular. This tale helps us take a whole new look at our hands. It brings new meaning to the phrase, “thumbs up.”

It takes strong character to exercise the courage of our convictions. It also takes a sound knowledge of what exactly my convictions are. It’s easier to have no convictions, to go along, to follow the crowd — at least I think, well, yeah, maybe it is… Strong convictions can be confused with loudly expressed opinions. Sometimes loud opinions come from deep convictions. But people who have deep convictions and know themselves well, often don’t have a high need to stand on a soapbox with a megaphone bellowing loudly to convince others. This form of insecurity can be an attempt to relieve the solitude of standing up alone by dragging the crowd over to join me.

Ringing true to me is hard. Getting real is tough. It’s a lifelong effort to keep peeling back the layers of my own outer actions and inner self to discover who I really am. A clear form of hypocrisy is when I attempt to fool others. A foggier form of hypocrisy is when I am fooling myself. To reduce self-hypocrisy, I need to continually explore my inner space by constantly asking, “Who am I?” Ringing true to me calls for ever deepening honesty and integrity in my own self awareness and reflections. It’s also boosted by continual feedback from others to see how they see me. This will help me in my attempts to change others by first changing myself — to get others to follow my example. All of this is built upon an authenticity that goes beyond doing to being.