“Integrity is when our words and deeds are consistent with our intentions” – Simon Sinek
Integrity: an important, meaningful word and one many of us try to live our lives by. But what happens when we are out of integrity — when our words and actions aren’t consistent with our intentions? It happens in spite of our best intentions. Sometimes we don’t keep our word or follow through on those actions we know are for our highest good. We get challenged by the situations and people in our lives and how we show up in those moments determines whether we stand in integrity or not. It’s easy to be in integrity when life is flowing our way, when we feel rested and strong. It is a much more difficult thing when we are challenged, facing hard times, or feel sick, tired, or sad.
All of us are perfectly imperfect. We all make mistakes and are sometimes less than we wish to be. I think the key here is not to pass judgment, but be open to the awareness that we have drifted into choppy waters, away from our intentions. Integrity is the beacon shining from our inner lighthouse. It helps us navigate the rough waters of adversity — personally, professionally, ethically or spiritually — and brings us back home.
I worked with a police officer for several years who highlighted for me what it was to live in integrity. He was an experienced officer, married to a dispatcher within our department and had four children. He was a deacon at his church and coached youth hockey. He showed up the same way in every area of his life. He was smart, even-tempered and had a terrific sense of humour. He knew how to talk to people. He enjoyed life and it showed! He had bad days, like the rest of us, but he was always able to find his way back to his authentic self, quickly. He had no interest in promotion and was considered a CFL — Constable for Life. This decision was looked down upon by many in the department. He was seen as unambitious and playing small. In a profession where so many officers experience divorce, burn-out, and depression, I saw a man who was unwilling to compromise the balance he had so authentically created for his life. He chose to pass up the opportunity for promotion, and instead reinvested himself in his marriage over and over again. He passed up status and rank so he could stand for his commitment as a leader in his church community. He chose to build a skating rink on his property every winter so he could coach his kids and their friends. Their love and respect were more valuable to him than the accolades of his peers. He followed his own guiding light of what had value and meaning to him, resulting in a big, beautiful, life. Success on his own terms. As a young officer, he personified integrity to me and I respected and valued him as a leader, even if he didn’t carry the rank.
Last Sunday I watched a program on Senator John McCain who passed away last August. He was a Captain in the United States Navy and was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese in 1967. He spent five years as a prisoner of war, subjected to repeated torture. He refused an out-of-sequence release from his captors because other P.O.W.’s had been there longer than he had. He chose to wait his turn at great cost to his personal health and well-being because he believed it was the right thing to do.
In 2000, while campaigning for the South Carolina primary, Senator McCain was asked his opinion on whether the Confederate flag, long considered a symbol of divisiveness in the U.S., should fly from the State Capitol. He stated that it was up to South Carolinians to decide, even though his personal belief was that it should be taken down. He lost the primary anyway.
“As I admitted, I should have done this earlier when an honest answer could have affected me personally. I did not do so for one reason alone. I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth. My ancestors fought for the Confederacy, they fought on the wrong side of American history. That, my friends, is how I personally feel about the Confederate battle flag.”
I was moved by his public admission. It wasn’t a “putting out the fire” speech. It was honest, clear, and resonated as fully authentic for me. Yes, he stepped out of integrity in a particular moment, And then he followed his beacon home by admitting the truth and owning his actions.
These two moments in this one man’s life highlighted a truth for me. There are always two sides of the coin. In integrity, out of integrity. Lessons to be learned either way. Perfectly imperfect. No judgment, just awareness. Always the opportunity to choose the storm or find the beacon guiding us home.