Honesty and Integrity. To me these are two of the greatest virtues that a person can develop in their life. I have struggled with both throughout my life and I still have my struggles with them. When I was a child, being raised by a narcissistic and moody mother I learned to lie as a survival technique. I never knew what would set her off and cause her to go into one of her crazy rants or fits, so I would lie about absolutely everything and try to make up such a vanilla story that she couldn’t get angry. Still, she found a way and sometimes, because of my lies, someone else would take the brunt of her wrath for something that I had done. Needless to say, this caused me to feel conflicted. While I was glad that I was not the one being punished I also felt guilt for another having to take my punishment, whether it was deserved or not. I continued my lying until I was in my 20s when a girlfriend pointed out to me that I was now an adult living on my own and she couldn’t punish me anymore. It was true, yet at the same time, I was not immune to the massive guilt trips that my mother laid on me when I didn’t do what she wanted me to do…which was almost always. Eventually, though, I learned to just stand in my truth with her and let the chips fall where they fell. I still got the brunt of her guilt and verbal abuse but I soon realized that it wasn’t much different than when I would make up a lie and she still got angry with me. Now, my struggle is more about how to not be so honest that I hurt people unintentionally. I have learned the hard way that honesty is sometimes hard for people to take in its purest form and needs to be tempered and filtered most of the time. And I’ve also learned that not saying anything is sometimes the most loving thing you can do for another. This game of life is tricky and we all mess up a lot along the way.
As far as integrity goes, I think that when I was a younger person I had a lot of integrity. My word was something you could take to the bank. If I said I would do something, I did it and I did it when and how I said I would do it. I could not understand why others didn’t operate the same way and eventually found myself getting angry and bitter about being the one who was so reliable and honest when it seemed like no one else seemed to really care. So I stopped caring too. I would do what I wanted and arrive late or not at all and sometimes do what I promised to do and sometimes didn’t. Sorry, I would say. But I wasn’t sorry.
What is the definition of integrity anyway? Basically, it means to be integrated and in alignment so that what you say you will do is what you actually do. Or you act in a way that is in alignment with your values and ethics. The trick is to have values and ethics that are of high quality and caliber. If you have low values and ethics, being integrated with those isn’t so hard. But if you have high level values, ones of high virtue and value, it is a lot harder because society in general does not operate at that level and you will constantly be pulled down to their level. Acting with integrity on a constant and steady basis takes a lot of self discipline and strength of character. Most people can pull it off some of the time but few can do it all of the time.
One of my heroes in life is Major Dick Winters who was portrayed in the HBO mini series, Band of Brothers. He was a paratrooper during World War II and eventually became the leader of Easy Company, which is the group that the series follows throughout the war. What I admire about Major Winters is how he knew from such a young age what was important to him and used those values and morals as a compass in his life, both during and after the war. The men he led, until their dying day, respected him for the kind of leadership he provided and gave him a lot of credit for getting them home alive after the war ended. Winters was a man of high integrity but he also made it part of his mission to be in the trenches with his men and often led the charge ahead of them, so he never asked them to do something he wasn’t willing to do himself. If I could pick just one person to model my life after it would be Major Winters.
The problem, for me, is that I am nothing like Dick Winters and now that I’m in my 50s it feels like it’s too late. This thought had me really depressed for a while until I realized that I don’t have to be just like Dick Winters or even in my 20s to use what I learned from him. My values don’t have to be his values and I don’t have to give up who I am to be like him. The big take away from this study into a true hero’s life was to realize that what matters is to decide what is important to you and to live your life around those things no matter what anyone else does. For example, honesty is really important to me. If I’m in a situation where everyone around me is being dishonest, for example: stealing from their employer or cheating customers, I would continue to be honest and not do as they do just because the majority is doing it. How often have we all used the excuse of, “everyone is doing it” to justify doing something that we know is wrong? I think all of us can point to a time when that has happened. As our parents would say to us, “if everyone was jumping off a bridge would you do that too?” “Of course not”, we say. But maybe we would if we thought we wouldn’t get hurt or caught doing something wrong. And then we also don’t want to be the person who is the “goody two shoes” or “uncool” or “stick in the mud” either. If we are a person of integrity, none of that would matter to us though. We have an inner compass that tells us when something violates a moral, value or ethic and we will not veer off course from our own true north.
This is the key to living with integrity. You have to know where your true north is and follow it constantly. Honesty and integrity are intertwined to the point where you can’t have one without the other. So if you are honest, then you are acting with integrity. And you can’t do something dishonest and stand in your integrity. Well, I suppose if you’re value is that you deserve to get what you want at all costs no matter how much it hurts others than you are in your integrity when you lie and cheat to get what you want. But this is not the kind of integrity that I am referring to. I am speaking of high moral integrity. And I also don’t necessarily mean religious morals either. I don’t think you need to be particularly religious to have high morals or values. Many will find that having a faith to anchor them helps, but it is not necessary.
Since my 20s I have fallen in and out of a life of integrity depending on the situation I was in. I have mostly lived an honest life. As I grow older and find myself in more and more positions of leadership I am starting to realize how living consistently in integrity is important. Especially in these trying times where excellent leadership is so rare, I think being a leader of integrity and honesty is one of the most precious gifts I can give to those I’m leading. So few are aligned with truth and honesty these days and young people especially are starving for role models of what an honest leader that they can look up to and model their life after looks like. I know what that looks like and I think I can pull that together for them. I knew what integrity looked like when I was 17 and I still know what it looks like. All it will take is to put my words and actions into alignment and do what I say I am going to do. And always, always lead with love.