Clarification – This is MY definition of “Integrity”…the one I have tried my absolute best to live by since I was 15, and the one I will continue to use as my gauge for my personal acceptable behavior.
Integrity is one of those ineffable qualities that is best described by listing the things you will and won’t do instead of offering a textbook definition. It’s almost like describing the taste of salt; you can’t do it without mentioning foods that taste salty. There are, however, a small set of clear-cut rules related to Integrity that are rock-solid.
First — You are responsible for your own actions. We can rationalize our poor actions by telling others (and ourselves) that we simply “reacted” to someone else’s actions. “She yelled at me, so I yelled back.” Again, this is only a rationalization, and not completely true. I have learned that we can train ourselves to change our reactions. But the FIRST step towards changing our reactions is to take Complete Ownership of ALL of our actions. So, when someone yells at you, you need to consciously train yourself to react differently. First – decide what that reaction should be (i.e.: silence for a few moments to allow yourself to respond correctly to the moment), and then employ that reaction whenever possible. Second – ensure you are attaching the “correct reaction” to the “correct trigger”. Is it the yelling that causes you to respond aggressively? Or is it the feeling of being somehow threatened that elicits this response? To cover more ground with my effort (and pain), I chose to assign my reaction to the broader trigger >> Whenever I felt threatened, even slightly (by someone raising their voice, by someone saying something I perceive to be untrue or offensive, etc.), I will ‘react’ by pausing long enough to allow me to respond appropriately for the situation. It took years, involving a lot of failed attempts, but incrementally – over time – I have gotten very good at reacting to threatening situations with a pause-and-reflect method instead of a tit-for-tat method.
Second — Never lie to yourself. Although listed second, it is as important as the first rule. This rule, in many ways, can be tougher than the first; especially for some people. Lies are often a defense mechanism. People lie to others in order to cover perceived inadequacies. People lie to themselves for the exact same reason. While working on the first rule, it is vital that we pay strict attention to the second rule at the same time. We must catch ourselves in our internal lies, call ourselves out on them, and then be completely honest to ourselves about both the lie(s) and the truth behind them. For example: When someone calls me fat, it is a common response to think “I’m not as fat as I used to be!” or “There are a lot of other people in the world MUCH fatter than I am.” But the truth is, I AM fat – even by my own definition of that term. I am currently 40 lbs heavier than my desired weight, and until I get to that weight, I am fat. To have someone else bring it to my attention is rude, true enough, but I must react to them using Rule One, and then follow Rule Two to put their statement into perspective, admit the truth of it, and – ideally – use any associated anger or shame as fuel to help me continue to lose weight. Lying about my weight to myself would only result (most likely) in me putting back on the 24 lbs I’ve already lost in the last 10 weeks, and probably an additional 20 or 30 pounds on top of that. Remember – you can’t truly live a life of Integrity if you are constantly lying to yourself.
Third — Right is ALWAYS Right. I know the difference between right and wrong. I taught those values to you both, and I see you use them and weigh them constantly. “Right” does not stop being “Right” if we are upset, if no one is watching us, or if we are around others who believe differently than we do. The easy example is: We are walking down the street and we see someone pull their car keys out of their pocket and, by mistake, a $20 bill falls out of their pocket at the same time, un-noticed by them. I know you both well enough to know that you would immediately make the person aware of the money and ensure they got it back. Here’s a tougher scenario::: Someone asks you a direct question, and the answer – you KNOW – will cause them emotional pain. Is telling them the truth the proper thing to do? Since this letter is about Integrity >> How does your response to that person reflect your sense of Integrity? To me, the correct answer is: I will pause before responding, I will weigh the consequences of my response (not the consequences to me, but to them), I will choose what I feel is the appropriate response and commit to it, and I will take sharp note of the actual result. If it ends up being a good decision, I will note it and remember it for next time. If it ends up being a bad choice, I will completely own that choice, do what I can (if anything) to minimize the damage, and try even harder to remember it for next time. Following Rule Two will help you decide about “Right”. With all of the internal lies, social conventions and life-filtering that most people do firmly set aside, it is much easier to see “Right”.
And Last — Integrity is the Core. We are a family of Faith. This is an undeniable, unchangeable truth. And it is an easy affirmation to tell yourself, “My Faith is my Core.” However, it does not diminish your Faith or your dedication to God and Christ by placing your Integrity as your Core. The Core, as I see it, is the filter by which all things pass through. And, the reason I place my Integrity as my Core is as a means to clarify my sense of Responsibility. There are many, many people in this world who believe in God and Christ. They use that belief as their moral center (WWJD) and, in most cases, they are filtering their life-decisions through their belief system. However, it is an unfortunate reality that, in trying SO hard to bend to the ever-increasing social pressure to be universally accepting of ALL persons, many will often set-aside the crystal clear rules of right and wrong in order to get-along. Also, this core of belief does not stop them from continuing to blame other people, society, or even God for the result(s) of the choices that they make. They can effectively lie to themselves and sidestep 100% ownership of their own actions (Yes, I yelled at her, but she yelled at me first. And I am more than willing to forgive her – if she apologizes.). People can find ways to fit their rationalizations into what they consider to be a faith-based life.
But when Integrity is at the Core, there is no room for these rationalizations. I HAVE to admit to myself that living with my boyfriend is wrong. I HAVE to admit that I could have chosen an alternate response to her yelling at me, so therefore take responsibility for my role in the argument. Most important of all –> Keeping Integrity at the Core leaves no room at all as to who is responsible for all of my actions. It is me – each and every time.
I love you kids, and I am offering my explanation of Integrity as a way of hopefully helping you better understand what drives me, what drives my decision-making process, and what has always supported and strengthened my Faith. I believe completely that God has blessed me with the knowledge, power and burden offered by my adherence to Integrity (read the appropriate verses) as a means of constantly strengthening me so that I can be a better husband, a better father, a better grandfather, and friend, co-worker, Deacon, Overseer, etc. (Not placed in order of importance). And, paraphrasing something an old philosopher once said, ‘I know it will take me a lifetime and a day to perfect it.’ (Love you both!)