Living fully in each moment (by which I mean taking advantage of all the gifts bestowed on us by being alive) is what we are here to do. Living fully doesn’t just happen; it requires commitment. But commitment requires something more: integrity. Integrity is the hidden requirement for living fully.
Integrity is integral to a good, full life. Remember the regrets people share on their deathbeds? These are disclosures of Integrity Failure (IF). IF robbed these people of the fullest life possible.
I am not intending to teach anyone reading this blog about IF as if I am untainted. I intend to be real in this post. You should expect nothing less than my honesty.
Look around. I am sure you noticed. L(IF)E is full of IF. For example, we take jobs that don’t fit our well-being, hang out with people that don’t have our best interests at heart, belong to organizations only for the personal benefits, tell gossip that hurts others, buy from businesses that are stealing from our future and destroying our planetary home for profit, we sing the national anthem because everyone else does, et cetera, et cetera.
My life is full of examples of Integrity Failure. It started early in my life, perhaps as an experiment in survival and then it continued as a habit. My first friends were often people that others didn’t like. I felt sorry for them and committed to being a “real” friend, through thick and thin. Integrity Failure.
Ron, for example, consistently got me in trouble. He lied, stole and manipulated to get what he wanted. I followed along at first and then copied his example. Integrity Failure. Specifically, I recall Ron and me stealing a neighbor’s corn and cherries, and another neighbor’s apples and pears. I knew that was wrong. Integrity Failure. We broke into abandoned buildings and new construction. Integrity Failure. And, of course, we were caught. He convinced me to break my parents rules over and over because “the rules were stupid.” Ron told me he got by with stealing candy from a storeowner, so I tried it. Integrity Failure. We never got into cruelty or grand larceny (and I don’t think I would have been capable of bending the stupid rules that far) but this was more than bending rules, it was sacrificing my commitment to a higher authority than friendship for friendship’s sake. That is IF.
Later on in life, similar friendships developed and my commitment to church got hypocritical. It was hypocritical because I believed just like the others so I could have friends and not disappoint my family. IF. It wasn’t just breaking integrity with an organization; I broke integrity with my parents, my brothers, my wife and my only child.
One of the first major steps I took toward Full Integrity (FI) was to admit that my thirty-year-plus marriage was another IF. And though I have often blamed her in my head, as a step toward FI, I will say here publicly that my IF was a major factor in that relationship and breakup.
One general observation comes from this: most all of us have lied to ourselves that our integrity will cover up for others’ lack of integrity. For example, “My love will hold together this marriage.” “My commitment to the children will keep them from harm even if my partner fails them.” “I know how this works and the group needs me for it to function, even if they don’t appreciate me.” Does this sound familiar? It’s our flirtation with IF and it’s a slippery slope.
My slippery slope story was that I did it for love, God, and country. When I was eighteen, I registered at the draft board as a conscientious objector. I knew in my heart that killing was wrong and it would be a crime against my conscience to go to war as a participant in any way. That was FI. Not long after, I got married. I told myself it was for love, but it was for peer acceptance, to rebel against my parents, and to help give my girlfriend a new start. IF. So, I entered the workforce at 18. Then, for “love” and at her insistence, I moved away from my job to another state. Jobs there were extremely hard to come by and soon we had a child. My meager pay as a busboy wasn’t paying the bills. I had to do something…so I signed up for the Armed Forces. Major Integrity Failure. I was in the middle of huge lie…an IF… but “I did it for my family.” Did I learn? No.
A couple of years later, my wife decided she needed a college degree. But she didn’t like school, so with some relaxed rules of an off-site university, I helped her with her undergraduate degree. A few years after that, she went on to pursue a Masters. Again, I helped, mostly with research and writing. But this time, because her degree would get work in a church setting, I was doing it for God. Then, as the ministry work moved us around, our son had to leave friends and change schools almost yearly. The poor little guy witnessed IF after IF from his father. No wonder he had difficulties with religion in general and me in particular. IF was a slippery slope for me. It all started with wanting to be accepted and wanting to help. The self-told lie lasted for thirty-some years, and some of us still bear the scars.
Seeing Integrity Failure in someone else is easier than seeing it in ourselves. That is the value of my story. You can see it in me and that could be your first step toward awareness of how slippery the slope can be. Lives are ruined by Integrity Failure. Marriages, careers, children, organizations, communities and countries.
Living fully is impossible on the slippery IF slope. Our hope of regaining a full life is not on our deathbed making a confession full of regrets. Our hope of living fully requires the brilliant light of Full Integrity (FI) ASAP. The brightness of Full Integrity reveals the shadow of IF behind us. We only become aware of the shadow if we turn around to look at it… and then admit to what everyone behind us sees clearly.