Lessons on Integrity
Sarah Ban Breathnach is a favorite author of mine—there have been periods in the last 10 years or so when her words assured me that I was not truly crazy in my aloneness, disorganization, disorientation and discontentment. This morning was another one of those times—I needed to connect with how she allows her sometimes upside down world to teach her.
Sarah was discussing how the loss of “things” after a natural disaster—earthquake or hurricane—leaves one grateful, on one hand, that life was saved, but grief stricken due to the loss of “symbols”, that tell the story of one’s life, and are now scattered across the landscape or broken and twisted beyond recognition.
That got me to thinking about moving some 500 miles at retirement and setting up household with a real sense of leaving as much of my past 20+ years behind me as possible. I think I’ve done a pretty good job until I try to find “things” to place on tables and shelves. O, I have my books and family pictures, and odds and ends of this and that, but there seem to be holes or vacancies—those “symbols” that tell stories.
As I follow this line of thinking, I wonder if by not seeing the typical symbols of times and experiences, am I showing a lack of integrity in my own life? You see, integrity is the quality that I most admire in others—and the quality that I most want in my own. If I am somehow relegating my past—past that has taught me difficult lessons—to a forgotten state, is my “leaving-all-that-behind” showing a lack of integrity?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines integrity as: “steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code; the state of being unimpaired; soundness; the quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.
To take the definition to a more personal level, I look at individuals who mirror integrity for me and see qualities that reflect:
A willingness to make personal sacrifices for his/her beliefs
A willingness to be held accountable for his/her choices
One who uses intelligence laced with compassion
This personal definition comes from many years of life experiences. I don’t want to place blame on those who have not lived up to these personal standards, but I can say that I have learned from those tough times what is not integrity. But rather than focus on the negative, I think of two men in my life whose value of integrity is intricately tied to who they are.
One man is the husband of one of my closest friends. They have been married for nearly 50 years. They both decided several years ago that they wanted to leave their sons something that ran deeper than money or property or even educational degrees. They began a journey to become “whole”—to work towards emotional maturity that ultimately brings spirituality integrity.
As close as his wife and I are, it was the caring, sensitive role model that her husband provided—when I’d been effected by the lack of integrity of a man in my life—that gave me the courage to see the learning curve in front of me instead of allowing resentment to take residence.
My brother is another man who has lived a life of integrity—who has challenged me by his own life to look more broadly at issues—to see beyond the obvious. His compassion for others, his nonjudgmental attitude even in the midst of his own crises, has connected me to a soul I much admire.
So back to my “missing symbols” – how do they connect or disconnect with my goal of integrity? After spending some time contemplating this dilemma I’ve decided I don’t need tangible objects that confront me daily to be reminders of lost love or a past life—not unless they provide help and encouragement. But I also think that tossing aside something that could provide me with memory of a meaningful learning experience is detrimental. Perhaps what I need to be much more aware of is the gratitude I feel for the opportunity to learn my own lessons of integrity—and be able to answer in the positive questions such as:
Am I willing to make personal sacrifices for my beliefs?
Am I willing to be held accountable for my choices?
Do I use intelligence laced with compassion?
And may I never walk (alas, at times I’m tempted to run) from teaching moments in my sometimes upside-down world.