I came to integrity far later in life than I’d like to admit. The work I’ve begun is far from finished. It’s as much as a skill as anything else: some combination of self-awareness, calmness, and commitment to the truth. Integrity is not merely a matter of “not lying,” but it includes keeping your word, your commitments to yourself, and being a reliable and steady presence, and “showing up” for others.
A big part of integrity is not making yourself central in every single story.
I have a ways to go and I have habits to break. It’s a different sort of journey than you might think it would be. More sighs than epiphanies, more tolerance, and less certainty. It’s a good journey.
The road to integrity has benefited my life at every level. It’s the surest way to better mental health. To enforce boundaries without regrets. To see the world as it is and to develop self-awareness.
A life without integrity sucks. Not just when you get caught. You fracture and fry your mind. You misremember events. Details blur and you escape to some unreality. You miss the sweetness of life. You eventually wind up defending indefensible positions. You alienate your friends and your loved ones.
By you, as always, I mean me.
Martin Luther King said it well:
“I may not be the man I want to be; I may not be the man I ought to be; I may not be the man I could be; I may not be the man I truly can be; but praise God, I’m not the man I once was.” — Martin Luther King Jr
Integrity has worked well for our country. When you go to a store and buy a thing, you can be reasonably sure that the thing will have what it says on the tin. That saves time. That is efficient. That prevents you from inspecting 500 paint cans. Yes!
We have wanted our media to give it to us straight. And there has been a cultural commitment to journalism for years. We want basically scrupulous politicians that at least have the decency to lie in private.
That’s all breaking down, these days. I don’t know where it begins. We have come to replace integrity with tribalism. If they are “on our side,” politically and socially then we forgive and forget lapses in integrity. And the ties that bind our country unravel.
And then, there is no place to turn. The last two elections have featured candidates that should have been disqualified. Americans had terrible decisions to make at the ballot box.
What’s worse is what happened after: without anything more than specious evidence, one side was accusing the election itself of being fraudulent. They were broadcasting and repeating stories. Magnifying slight irregularities into things and delivering facts out of context.
This has ugly implications. Why participate if the game is rigged? And if the game was rigged, why would you bother with the rule of law? There’s no incentive to play fair if nobody’s playing fair. Any 100-level poly-sci class teaches the prisoner’s dilemma and we’re living it.
And, the media mostly just retreated to their bases. There was no introspection, no idea that a massively unpopular President would inspire millions of people to vote against him. The same “love” that brought on his rallies had an equal and opposite reaction. If you voted for the other guy, it wasn’t likely that you endorsed him, it was because you could see our President as a train wreck.
With the stakes high, there was an attitude where the end justifies the means. Everyone ratcheted everything up a few levels. The other guy was so dangerous it didn’t matter if we told the truth: This election was the latest “most important ever” election.
So restraint went out the window. Whatever it takes to win. Whatever stories we had to tell. Whatever hoaxes had to be spread. Because the other guy is evil. Our guy is good.
There are no real consequences for spreading false information. We want to be validated, we don’t want the truth. We hear stories and we shrug. “Well, the other side sucks too.” Benghazi. The Russian pee tapes. Hunter. Dementia. And on and on. What’s true? Do we even care?
Integrity is a national resource. By voting in politicians who lie, accepting, spreading, and leaning into the lies we deplete the core advantages of our country. We ruin what’s magically advantageous about America.
How do we run this back and restore the thing that truly makes America great?