Good reasons aren't good enough
In the fall of 2020, when our kids’ school went back full-time and masked, all students and their families had to agree to a community agreement. The agreement stated that we would follow certain guidelines in our personal lives to ensure the safety of our school community.
All parents of students in one of my son’s classes received an email from a couple other parents. Their families had broken the community agreement by participating in activities outside of school in ways that the agreement prohibited.
Their first sentence was clear and straightforward: we broke the community agreement, and we apologize for putting the community at risk.
The following three paragraphs of the email, however, went on to justify why they did what they did. They had excuses. They had reasons. Those excuses and reasons were valid enough to them to break the agreement.
Here’s what they were saying without really saying it directly:
“We broke the community agreement and put the community at risk. We apologize for getting caught. We were much more interested in having a good time than in honoring the agreement. In truth, we don’t value our word enough, and neither do we value this community enough, to adhere to an agreement that we promised to uphold. Our desires to have fun are worth more to us than our personal integrity and the integrity of this community.”
That would have been a great email! It would have been honest. Instead, they pretty much said all of that without saying it directly. Their actual email was a bunch of pretense intended to tug at our humanity and have us see them as sincere parents trying their best.
Instead of restoring integrity in the situation, the message propagated a message we've been swimming through in our culture since we were born: it's okay to dishonor your agreements, ignore promises, and cheapen the value of your word, as long as you've got good reasons to back it up. Our culture has a small view of integrity and responsibility, and it has consequences.
I'm not judging the parents who wrote the email. These are great parents - successful, loving, extremely generous. It's not immoral that they didn't really take honest responsibility. It's completely normal that their message sounded like it did. Normal and ordinary.
The challenge it brings up, however, is that ordinary being gives us ordinary results. The opportunity of living with integrity is extraordinary being which gives us extraordinary results.
Feeling bad about it doesn't restore integrity
A client recently showed up a few minutes late to a scheduled conversation. He apologized and made a point to express that he felt bad about it.
Often we feel bad when we dishonor our agreements. We somehow think that feeling bad, guilty, or stressed makes up for not honoring our agreements.
The flip side of this is that many of us do things we don't want to do because we don't want to feel guilty about it. We'd rather sell out on ourselves and our own sense of integrity than to risk hurting someone else's feelings. We'd rather feel ashamed than guilty.
This leads to inauthentic people-pleasing.
This leads to inauthentic martyrdom.
This leads to inauthentic passive-aggression.
It doesn't lead to integrity.
(In this client's case, he actually did honor our agreement. He texted me as soon as he knew he'd be late, which was about 10 minutes before our call was scheduled to begin. This action honored me, it honored our relationship, and it honored our work. What his feeling bad pointed to is his habit of people-pleasing and putting his own well-being at the effect of how others might perceive him.)
A different perspective on integrity
I think of integrity as an alignment of my inner and outer worlds. It’s truthfulness at the level of being.
Being honest with myself. Being true to myself. Being authentic and courageous and honorable with myself.
AND being honest, true, authentic, courageous, and honorable in my words, in my actions, and in my relationships.
None of that has integrity in the personal realm:
When we resist or avoid our actual feelings, we’re lying to ourselves.
When we justify our actions with excuses, we’re not honoring ourselves or our word.
When we hold onto regret, we’re imprisoning ourselves.
When we continue to reinforce disempowering stories about ourselves, we’re lying to ourselves.
None of this has integrity in the realm of relationships:
When we agree to things that we don’t really mean, we’re lying to others.
When we come up with excuses for not honoring our word, we’re lying to others.
When we buy into others’ excuses for not honoring their word, we’re selling out on our relationship and our community.
Integrity makes possible the extraordinary.
It allows us to rely on ourselves and the word we give to others.
It allows us to rely on others and the word they give to us.
Acting with integrity seals up the cracks and gaps in who we've been to ourselves and to others. It reinforces a foundation of self-respect and respect of others. It's solid ground from which we can propel ourselves into the future - a that matters to us, the people we care about, and the world - empowered and unbounded.
A future of the extraordinary.
Talk isn't cheap, my friends - we cheapen talk. And that's exactly what our excuses and justifications do: they paint a picture of inevitability and helplessness when it comes to honoring our agreements.
Living a life of integrity may at first seem challenging and hard, but you'll find after a little practice that it's not. Try it and experience the fuel it feeds your actions, your results, and your soul.
Thank you so much for engaging with my work. ❤️
P.S. If you're inspired by what breakthroughs that integrity might cause in your experience, relationships, and results, reach out and let's see what clarity and power that working together might awaken for you.