Cool! For some years now, this word like no other has re-emerged to become our common currency for describing what we find good or great, for describing what moves us. Yet most of the time we ourselves are anything else but cool. We’re living in a touchy-feely time, a time of emotional extremes as Wolf Lotter puts it in a recent issue of brand eins, and I would certainly agree with his diagnosis. Yet how does coolness shape up with emotional extremes? For many people authenticity is the magic word that makes all contradictions vanish. Yet does its magic really work?

The social net in the internet is a permanent invitation to spontaneous reactions. And spontaneous means trust your gut instinct, don’t hesitate, no time for thought or reflection, shoot from the hip, a direct immediate reaction is best. Is this really authentic? And can’t it be that authenticity understood in this way is really being misunderstood? Or might even be problematic? 

Emotional = seducible

Whoever controls the keyboard of emotions can control the game. This is true of advertising and politics just as it is for our everyday interpersonal relations. Awakening desire and making promises is one side of the keyboard; fuelling envy, fear and anger is the other. Whether it’s selling diapers or making a political statement, emotions are the key means of seducing people and getting them on board. But especially when it comes to politics, one thing is very clear – and our German history is full of nightmarish examples that bear this out: if you place too much trust in your emotions you become open to seduction and quickly run the danger of being manipulated. If  you take your emotions as the mainstay by which to judge all things, you can easily turn into a kind of puppet whose emotional strings are controlled by hands not your own. 

For me it’s a misunderstanding to cloak pure emotion in an aura of authenticity. Because what we feel today can be quite different tomorrow. And if you look back at the history of your own emotional life, perhaps you’ll find that a lot of what you held to be the absolute emotional truth ten or twenty years ago, appears in a quite different light today. The contrary also applies: the cultivation of feeling so dominant in our present age, hides an awful lot of authenticity.  

True authenticity

If feelings bubble and boil up in people, the language clearly says they are beside themselves – beside themselves with anger, beside themselves with joy, beside themselves with grief. In other words, they are out of control, no longer a coherent whole. They are not authentic. 

To me being authentic means that I am capable of comparing my own thoughts and feelings with those of others who might agree or disagree with me and by doing so can develop a certain distance to them – before trumpeting them to the whole world. I call this self-leadership. And to me this is a central element in authenticity. A little flag flapping in a gale of emotions is not authentic.  

And this also means that I must continually strive to put my own state of feelings to a rational examination. Emotions are important, of course they are, but they can also be deceptive. Blindly trusting them and following them might sometimes seem the obvious thing to do, but in no way is it a recommendable course of action. 

“Shall I be authentic or shall I hide myself behind my emotions?” To me this is the key question which you, me and everyone else should ask themselves in order to put a soothing distance between ourselves and the emotional velocity that dominates our times. “There is strength in serenity” might be an old-fashioned saying, but it’s perhaps one that we can simply find cool.