Doing It Right

The key to the mystery of a great artist: that for reasons unknown to him or to anyone else, he will give away his energies and his life just to make sure that one note follows another inevitably. The composer, by doing this leaves us at the finish with the feeling that something is right in the world, that something checks throughout, something that follows its own laws consistently, something we can trust, that will never let us down.

--Leonard Bernstein

As a young man, my father went to New York with a dream of becoming an opera singer. He was thrilled when he got a part in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. After he and my mother were married, the Depression hit, and he took a job as a secretary in a small commercial real estate firm to make ends meet. Within a few years, he became a partner in the firm. He threw all the passion he had for music into his new career. He initiated bold, innovative and very successful deals, such as the sale of Ebbot's Field, home of the New York Dodgers. He received an award once for "Creative Realtor of the Year." Normally, one associates creativity in that business with something less than virtue, but for my father it wasn't like that. He had a reputation as a man of integrity.

One time a client was visiting, and we all went to the beach on Long Island. As he sat beside my mother on the sand, he talked about the excellent deal my father had negotiated for him. Then he laughed and said, "There's only one thing wrong with your husband. He's too honest." My mother replied, "Would you take your business to anyone else?"

When my father was 82, dying of cancer, we received a deeper awareness of what made him tick. For three days, the family held vigil while he was in a deep coma. Suddenly his voice rang out: "All your life you wander in search of meaning and then, at the end, at the core, there is only the covenant." He had spoken on rare occasions in his life of the covenant between humanity and God. In death, it was his only remaining passion.

-Linda Kavelin Popov, Sacred Moments – Daily Meditations on the Virtues ©1996


Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.

--Spencer Johnson

It is easier to be good when people are watching, isn’t it? It takes confidence in one’s self, and an enormous amount of character to toe the line when no one is around. “What you see is what you get,” Flip Wilson would comment, and that is as it should be. Self-esteem is the natural by-product of a good character. And good character is essential to integrity. Expectations are not always a good thing to have, because they can be disappointing when they are not met. But in order to travel the high road, an individual must have some self-expectations in order to be on that path in the first place. They lay down the rules for their own life, how they choose to live it, what they will and will not compromise. No matter who is watching. Integrity can be annoying to those individuals who have not raised the bar for their own thoughts and actions, but that is not the point. Lack of integrity in my own self can be annoying, and will hound me in the quiet moments. Honesty is always the best policy, especially when I reflect upon my own decisions and actions.

By walking “with integrity of the heart” in ways and in places that do not place the individual in jeopardy of forfeiting their integrity, Psalm 101 in the Old Testament says we may study “the way that is blameless.” One does not fall off the cliff if one does not walk near the edge, now, do they? I need to eliminate from my daily activities those kinds of choices that threaten my principals. When I come to a complete understanding that I really do create my own reality, I will stop creating tests for myself that I am bound to fail. My soul will evolve beyond those shortcomings in my character and actions that are based on fear rather than love. I will be free of my feelings of anger, regret, embarrassment, shame and sorrow. The healing journey of my soul leads me to create situations where I may learn that love is everything, and that love is all there really is. I can either learn through doubt and fear, or I can learn through the exercise of wisdom.

The bottom line here is this: my self, the wholeness of my personality, does pretty well if all within is harmonious. It doesn’t do so well if it is asked to tolerate self-deception (to paraphrase Carl Jung). My life seems to smooth out when I release self-deceptions and move toward wholeness. If I were to consider buying a house, one of the first things I would check would be the foundation. Only a foolish man would build his spiritual house upon sand, and I would be truly foolish to have, at the center of my character, those qualities that may appear grand, but have no real foundation. I don’t need to be a perfectionist about what I say or do, but it would certainly profit me to feel as strongly as Leonard Bernstein, insisting that I check out thoroughly, that I be consistent and trustworthy, especially to myself. Keep in mind that this process is not meant to please others, but to purify my own environment, to help shed my illusions while listening to Spirit, all the while standing on solid ground. It is the long and arduous, but necessary, struggle to pass from slavery to freedom, from degradation and ignorance to civilization and enlightenment, from spiritual bondage to spiritual liberty. A life of virtue is not one of ease, but of constant struggle! And, yet…

It is human to make mistakes and have failings. I must therefore treat myself with compassion, and not be excessively hard on myself when I do fail.  Confucius taught that we should emulate that which we deem noble in others, but when we see failings in others, we should examine ourself thoroughly. It takes courage to examine situations in which I find myself, and ask the hard questions:

·         What’s my part in this mess?

·         What can I change in me to improve the situation?

Acting upon honest answers to these questions (like, “it’s probably just me!”) may require changes in myself, in spite of my fears and discomforts. Shame and guilt should play no part in this process. Rather, honest examination and acting with personal integrity fosters a personal responsibility and accountability for my actions and choices. Making those kind of changes may not just be necessary, but could be a healthy dollop of good sense in the bargain. Good sense motivates me to do the right thing, and courage helps me to persist because behaving with character is difficult. Fear of the consequences is going to be there, whether I act or not, so following through can only have the positive effect of creating a situation for learning and personal growth. If I am creating my own reality, I might as well do my utmost to discern the integrity of what I am called to create, even when I need answer to no one but myself.

Because, if I don’t take the time to do it right, I’ll just have to take the time to do it over. Again.



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