The best definition of integrity that I heard years ago came from a young person who, along with his mother, attended either a retreat at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas or at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. Even if the location is fuzzy, the words he spoke remain with me crystal clear. We were sitting at an outdoor picnic table as we enjoyed a love-infused vegetarian lunch. I’m not sure how we got on the subject, but this wise one said, “Integrity is saying what you mean, meaning what you say, but not saying it mean.” I smiled when I thought of all the times I have encountered that dilemma throughout my life as a people pleasing, co-dependent who didn’t want to lose approval. As a result, I would say mostly what I thought other people wanted to hear. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure what I meant, so eager was I to ‘say the right thing’.
Those days are long gone, thank goodness.
It isn’t that I don’t care what others think, it is that I care less about what they think and more about what I think, since I will be living with myself and the outcomes of my decisions 24/7 for the rest of my life. As a result, I have gained far more than I lost, in terms of trust and authenticity. If I can look the woman in the mirror in the eye at the end of the day, pleased with the words and actions of the one who gazes back at me, then I know I have been in integrity.
We live in a topsy turvy time where lies serve as truth and truth is to be questioned because it may very well be fallacious with the intention to deceive. Some people are so good at lying that they have themselves convinced they are delivering fact but are only deceiving themselves. This abhorrent behavior didn’t begin with the presidency of TFG (The Former Guy), but he made, and continues to make an art form out of it. That opened the door wider to others who have been more than happy to barrel their way through. George Santos, anybody? I wonder if he spends time formulating his stories, laughing gleefully, like a cartoon villain, thinking, “Hmmm, what can I get away with?” I shake my head with bewilderment that there are people who voted for both of them and would gladly do it again, if given the chance. In their minds, the ends justify the means. Those in office are a reflection of the values of people who put them there.
Sadly, it has become acceptable for people to lie, to maintain their position, to, in their minds, ‘serve a greater good.’ or to demean someone’s reputation. It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence you lean or which side of the aisle you stand. As anyone who has read my column knows, I am a way left of center, tree hugging, peace mongering hippie. There have been some icons who I admire for many reasons, who have not been pillars of virtue, standing for peace, but doing acts of violence, presenting as loving family men, but cheated on their wives. A musical hero from the 60s, as I discovered when I was doing research for an article I was planning to write about him, had sex with an underage groupie, for which he did jail time. After consulting with my editor, I decided not to submit the piece. I still listen to his music, as I do, John Lennon’s who admittedly, was violent with some of the women in his life. From what I have read, even Mother Teresa was no Mother Teresa. Spiritual teachers and gurus have done harm.
One thing that helps me is to take people off the pedestal that they have been placed on. I can’t go into their minds and observe what goes on that has them justifying their attitudes or behavior.
All I can do is be in integrity with myself. All I can do is a daily check in, taking my own inventory (in 12 step parlance). All I can do, is be a model for integrity. I follow these rules:
If it’s not yours, don’t take it.
If you want something, ask for it and if the answer is no, go back to rule #1.
If you want a healthy relationship with anyone, nourish it with love.
I you want to move forward, shake off the beliefs that keep you stuck.
If you want to be respected, be respectful.
If you wouldn’t say it to someone, don’t say it about them.
If you wouldn’t do it in the light of day, don’t do it in the shadows.
I live by the Three Gates, before saying something, ask yourself: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
When I was young, I have a recollection of my parents telling me, “Don’t do anything we would be ashamed of.” For most of my life, I lived as if that was the truth. It wasn’t until my mother was on hospice in 2010 and we were reminiscing that I learned the truth. She looked at me and smiled gently and let me know, “We never said that. We said for you not to do anything YOU would be ashamed of.”
And so, in all my humanness, I endeavor to do so.
Photo credit: iStock
This Post is republished on Medium.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.