Virtues: Integrity

Today I want to talk about honesty’s bed partner: Integrity.

Where honesty deals with the spoken word, integrity deals with actions.  This sums it up well:

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Integrity implies that you adhere to a strict moral code; that you have scruples, and that you don’t veer off that path. Often though, we are faced with situations that may make us want to compromise our integrity, because the prospect is fun or easy. It’s also often short-lived. And when one looks back, not worth it at all – because it leaves a dead spot in your being.  Yes, that’s experience talking.

 

 

 

 

 

All jobs require integrity, but professions even more so – medical & judicial particularly, but even there, sometimes people buckle, whether it is the leaking of confidential information, or accepting a bribe to look the other way.

Again though, what is right and wrong, because as with honesty, sometimes things do get a bit grey.  We’ve all been taught that it’s not right to steal, but we’ve also been taught that it is the right thing to provide for your family. So, if an unemployed man gets caught stealing (whether food or money) to provide for his hungry children, is he doing wrong? The stickler-for-the-rules in me is screaming YES! But the more open-minded side of me is empathetically saying, No. Wouldn’t it be more wrong if he tossed everything in the fuck-it-bucket and abandoned them? The same with the occupations I mentioned earlier – there are reported cases in South Africa of intimidation and death threats to high profile professionals. Honestly, if I was in their shoes, and my life (or that of my family) was in grave danger, I might slip and roll right off the moral high ground.

Sure, there are moral lines that I wouldn’t physically cross, and some that I always said I wouldn’t, but have as youthful indiscretions.  Some I even did two- or three times, because apparently burning your fingers once isn’t enough. Again, as I said yesterday, with age comes wisdom.

Now that I’m older, as far as is humanly possible, I strive to be trustworthy, backing my words up with action, although I know Elizabeth is shaking her head reading this: I told her I’d make her swirled mocha chocolate mousse, and I still haven’t done it – it’s been over a decade already! But I will do it – if I ever find the recipe again.

Earlier today I had a customer pop in at my office. He’s a dear old man; soft-spoken, with kind eyes and old school chivalrous. He was telling me that he and his wife will be making chutney this weekend and enquired about my plans for the weekend. I told him that I try to spend some time every weekend with my parents, because it is the honourable thing to do.  He even thanked me for it. It was an odd thing for me to hear, because seeing my parents at least for a while every weekend, is second nature to me, and if for some reason I know I won’t see them on the weekend, I make a point of spending a night with them during the week. Words, actions.

We’re all human; we’re all different and I believe in my heart that the greater percentile of us is just trying to do good and live lives that don’t cause harm.

As with the other virtues I’ve already written about, I fail with this too – although not as much as I did when I was younger.  I’m a lot more open-minded and comprehend that things are not as black-and-white-cut-and-dry-cast-in-stone as all the handbooks would have us believe.

Everyday is a new beginning, a chance to try again. Tomorrow I will strive not to commit murder in my mind (because I’ve failed hopelessly at it today…)

Virtues: Honesty

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what my writing approach to the virtue of honesty, which will be followed by its significant other, integrity, would be. It’s been tough, because it isn’t as cut and dry as other virtues like kindness – you’re either kind or you’re not; patience – you’re either have buckets full of it, or the little you do have wears thin very quickly; creativity – you either have some kind of arty-farty side, or you don’t.  Honesty though, is quite a grey area I’ve come to find as I’ve been chatting to various people in preparation for this piece.

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Honesty implies being truthful with your spoken communication, but in the words of one of my favourite musicians, Billy Joel, Honesty is such a lonely word // Everyone is so untrue which is a fair generalization.

Face it – we all lie at some stage of our lives, whether it is telling the- proverbial little white lie*, an outright blatant one#, or omitting the truth+. Most times these dishonesties are justified by good intentions – the examples below are ones I’ve personally heard.

*My ex-wife wanted me to tell our four-year old daughter we were going to the park, because she didn’t want to get into the car to go to church.

#Of course those pants don’t make your arse look fat!

+I spent the day baking (the bit that was omitted was space cakes)

Nikita, the colleague I travel to work with, gave me an entirely different angle as to why people aren’t entirely honest – fear.  She used a simple illustration of having spinach stuck in her teeth and me not telling her, for fear that she would be upset with me for the potential embarrassment she’d initially have, but that she’d rather I told her, than have her walk around the office for hours without knowing and everyone having a right old snigger behind her back.

The thing with any forms of untruths is that they may open the door to the creation of trust issues and let’s not try and baffle each other with bullshit here – if trust is broken, it is seldom ever one hundred percent restored.

This is the reason many relationships fail, because the words are empty. Neil Diamond summed it up well when he recorded Love on the Rocks in 1980. Love on the Rocks // ain’t no big surprise // pour me a drink // and I’ll tell you some lies…

The question though is if you really know the person you’re communicating with, and they’re not being entirely honest with you – is it not because they’re trying to protect you? Or because they know you well enough to know that you can’t handle the whole truth (at least not at that moment in time)? Simply answered (and this is hard for me to admit) – yes. However, with that said, there are only a handful of people I know would opt to go this route because they’re thinking more of me, than they are of themselves – and they are the people that are not only honest in my book, but the ones that have integrity too, because they will back up their words with their actions.

I’ll be brutally candid here – I’ve failed at being honest in the past, but with age has come wisdom and I know that my words have power, so I try to be as truthful as I can, with whomever I come into contact, and I will by that same yardstick, maintain my integrity back backing up my words with actions.

I love this definition of honesty – because it is not as black & white as many of the others I’ve found during my research and it is fundamentally true.

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Love, Trust, Harm…

Apologies readers, if this post is a bit disjointed, but I wanted to get my thoughts down, and I’m extremely pressed for time!

In Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, he tells the reader:

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”

A colleague of mine has this quotation taped to her PC monitor and it is a permanent BBM status. The other day I was chatting to Steve at the gym and he too said, “Trust few people…”

I understand the concept, but I simply can’t trust a select few, despite having experienced a form of ultimate betrayal myself  (and yes, it has bitten me in the arse more times than I care to admit). My boss even told me in my personnel evaluation two weeks ago, that I need to be meaner, because people take advantage of my good nature and tackle me emotionally. I was a little hurt by what he’d said, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized, he is right. The reason people take advantage of my good nature is simple – I trust them too easily, and beyond that, I trust them to do the right thing. Taking advantage of people isn’t right, so I trust them not to do it… I know it sounds like I’m talking in circles, but I’m sure you get the point.

That brings me to another story. For the sake of anonymity, I am not going to mention names, but refer to the people involved as Jack and Sarah.

I became friends with Jack and Sarah through a mutual friend. Sarah and I immediately hit it off. She was a bit of a rebel and part of me envies that because I’ve always been a goody-two-shoes. Jack came across as aloof, but as time passed, he defrosted a bit. As we got to know each other better, I’d learned that Sarah and Jack have been together for over a decade, and, while not married, they have two beautiful children. Sarah was a stay-at-home-mom; Jack a successful businessman.

One day during my recuperative period (after my diagnosis with depression), Sarah called asking me to join her for a drive in the country to go and visit her mum. I went and she shared some things about her past that I found shocking. She’d had a long problem with drug abuse, cocaine being her drug of choice. She had already been with Jack at the time, but left him and her (at that time) only child because of the spell of the drugs. Jack had to support his child, and not knowing what to do, as his job takes him away from home quite often, he put the child in the care of his parents, in another town. He fought tooth and nail to help Sarah, and eventually, she got clean. She continued her rhetoric, telling me that between then and getting back together with Jack, she’d been in a relationship with a much younger guy. I sat wondering how a person can love someone, yet not trust them enough to help them during one of the darkest times of their life. She’d fallen pregnant shortly after getting back together with Jack and this time it was for keeps. She was so emphatic in her statement that I couldn’t help but trust her.  She was my friend, she’d paid her dues, she wouldn’t lie to me, surely?

Four years down the line I bumped into another mutual friend of Sarah and I who told me that she and Jack aren’t together anymore. She’d apparently fallen prey to the wrong crowd again. I felt so sad – strangely though, not for Sarah, who I’d forged a strong bond with that day (she trusted me enough to share her dark secret), but for her two beautiful children and Jack, who has seen to it that she has never wanted for anything, a few rules notwithstanding.

About a month ago, during a window-shopping session, I heard someone whistle at me. I was not amused, but I turned around to see Jack standing there, a shadow of his former self. I told him I’d heard that things at home were a bit stormy and he told me the whole story. Sarah’s moved out – and he wants to help her (he loves her so much), but he doesn’t know if she wants to be helped. I can’t begin to imagine how he feels – having his trust betrayed for a second time. I wonder if she ever stopped to consider how her behaviour will influence her children and their ability to trust authority figures, when they can’t even count on their own mother to provide their most fundamental needs.

It was Jack’s birthday yesterday and I sent a simple text, saying, “Hey Jack, wishing you a great birthday. All the best for the year ahead!”

He replied, thanking me for remembering.

Part of me can’t help but wonder, if we love someone so much, do we stupidly trust them not to harm us? Or do we trust them, knowing they most likely will hurt or betray us, hoping that love will conquer all in the end and that there will be no long-term harm done?