Sunday, February 19, 2012

Choosing Integrity

We are born wholly honest. But we begin to manipulate our surroundings to get what we need or want – which can lead to dishonesty, theft, aggression ... even at a very young age. At some point we begin to see these choices clearly and to make them consciously.  The older we get, the more responsible we become for the consequences of our actions. No matter how things have gone in your past, it's never too late to learn about integrity, to straighten up if you've compromised it, and to begin to build the character you need to be a successful person inside and out.

choose integrity 
I have a saying, “Integrity is lost or gained in a hundred small decisions.” 
When I was about nine years old, living in Florida, I stole a roll of quarters from my mother. She kept them in a drawer for the laundry machines in our apartment building. I just couldn’t resist the temptation. Although we had very little money, my mother’s parents paid for us to have a housekeeper who lived with us. Her name was Alice, just like on The Brady Bunch. My mother accused Alice of taking the roll of quarters. I was horrified, but I was too scared to speak up. She yelled at Alice repeatedly over a period of days, trying in vain to get her to confess. Alice cried, and I could hear the pain in her tears at the loss of my mother’s trust. Eventually the incident faded away but things were never the same again. As soon as I had stolen the quarters I spent most of them on two-dozen doughnuts—doughnuts for everyone—my favorite: glazed, freshly baked. I bought them on my own as my mother paid for groceries in a dif-ferent line so that she would not see the quarters I paid with. 
Watching everyone enjoy the doughnuts did not ease my guilt. Nor did comforting Alice. Nor did doing my chores extra faithfully. The guilt I carried weighed heavily on me until I confessed my crime about three years later. My mother was very ungracious. It was an empty moment for me, but I felt the burden lift for my part, and for that I was grateful. 
When you were small I walked you lovingly and matter-of-factly back into the store, approached any random cashier and had you return any small item you had taken. You said you were sorry and we were done. No big deal. I didn’t punish you. It may have only been a pack of gum – but if you took it, you had to take it back. Do you remember? I knew you were too small to think much of it – but if you remember it I bet you remember that going back in and returning it moments later was not a horrifying experience. I wanted to teach you two things: 
1. Your integrity is your most prized possession. No one can steal it from you if you have it and no amount of money can buy it if you don’t. Do everything necessary to hold onto it, including embarrass yourself a little now and then. 
2. It’s not the end of the world to confess that you made a mistake. It actually feels pretty good once you get down to it. Others are usually much more gracious than my mother was, and will acknowledge your bravery and will reward you with more trust, not less. 
Make the little, daily decisions that add up to integrity, and little-by-little you’ll earn the trust of those that matter to you down the road. When someone with integrity looks you in the eye, five, ten or twenty years from now, they will see a lifetime of integrity in you. It’s unmistakable to them. That person – the person with integrity – is the one you want to see and understand you. They have the power to benefit you, to help you achieve your goals, to get your foot in the door, etc. Their word, their trust in you, is worth more than a degree or a track record. At the end of the day, being trustworthy is the gold standard. Guard that with everything you’ve got.
integrity begins when you lighten up about yourself
Lying, stealing and that slippery slope to losing your conscience, often begin with caring too much what others think of you. Rather than studying how to make yourself look good, lighten up! Don’t take yourself, or the opinions of others, so seriously that you’d be ashamed of who you really are or how things really are in your life. Free of popular pressure, you can chose friends that align with your quirks and imperfections, rather than forcing yourself to impress the un-impressable.
Laugh at yourself and have fun with that thing that embarrasses you. Disarm it. Take away its power to shame you... and you’ve won the battle for your integrity. I believe that our own embarrassment, or as shrinks like to say, shame, causes us more harm than anything others do to us. 
Don’t believe your own hype. I can’t say it enough: Lighten up!

—excerpt from Life, love, ma
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George Not Hincapie said...

Very well said and oh so very true. It takes far longer to undo a betrayal than it does to earn some one's trust.

Lynn Rubinstein said...

Shame is one of the most powerful motivators, but never towards positive goals. Love reading your thoughts.