I wish I’d been taught more intensely about integrity. But whichever way the lessons of honesty and intention were delivered, they still have not settled. Attitude and insight may be up to me, (New Years’ resolutions aside,) but betraying promises, cloaking truth in lies, or protecting the self from the judgement and the reprobations of others, continues. Then again, even Churchill is purported to have said, “Truth needs to be concealed in fabrications, if Truth is to be kept safe.”
Yet what about the small truths of our lives? What about the promises we make that we perpetually break? That cookie jar of our promises can get emptied more quickly than we intended. Surely intentions need consistency of action if we are to inculcate integrity? The promises we make need be valuable. After all, is deception not, at its core, guiltily enervating, disassembling? (Yes, then there are those invigorated by evil, or intentional harm.)
“Did you touch your present?” she asked the five-year-old, her eyes hard and threatening.
“No Mammy, I didn’t,” he lied, feeling at once desperately afraid.
Her voice as sharp as a spear point, the adult challenged, “Then why is the corner torn a bit, and the present not exactly as I put it? Don’t you listen? I told you not to touch the presents!”
He blanched. Involuntarily, his eyes darted over to the Christmas tree. He shook his head. “It must’ve been the cat,” he suggested. “It likes to go under the tree.”
She snatched forward and tugged at his ear. “Tell me the truth now!”
Great fear overwhelmed him. He knew he was in for a painful hiding if he told the truth, so he persisted: “I didn’t. I promise. I did not!”
She let go of him. Then, striding toward the presents and plucking his up, she ripped it open. She thrust forward the shiny new pencil case, and growled angrily, “Well, that’s the last you’ll see of this, you little liar! No presents for you, this Christmas. That’ll teach you!”
And the thing is, he never saw the pencil case again.
Yes, little lies come from our need to protect our actions. Fibs alter reality, and serve, ultimately, to undermine our sensibility of what integrity is actually about. The ability to be true to the self requires constant vigilance; the ability to be true to others requires constant evaluation. (What use is truth if you’re being tortured in order to reveal where your friends are hidden? What use is truth if you know, down deep, you’ll never be forgiven, or trusted, or believed, or loved?)
Integrity gets inculcated in us, lesson by lesson, over the length of our lifetime. We learn to be discreet, careful, thoughtful, caring, compassionate, conscious of our choices, considerate of our actions, and to nurture our intentions. Yes, we make promises that we break. Yet in so doing, one hopes, we feed off guilt and its negativity in an integrative spiral of enlightenment toward yet more solidity of being. Our integrity is the gathering of the fragments of our actions, habits, thoughts, and preferences into a package that is indeed full of the present. It is a present guided by the yesterdays of the lessons of our life, and it also is a present imbued with the potential of what is yet to be. Our own integrity might appear wrapped up for others, but at least we know what is inside.
Yes, New Year’s resolutions aside, we are best off, daily, to be inculcating our own, inner, (and preferably) inviolable integrity. No fears about it. Right?