Back in the late 1990’s I attended a men’s retreat entitled The New Warrior Training Adventure which was part of an organization named The ManKind Project. My life had been in severe turmoil at that time and was riddled with depression because of my father’s sudden death from his suicide. After speaking with a few people and told that I could get benefit on the weekend to heal from that tragedy, I made the decision to go. While the main outcome from attending that retreat was healing from my father’s death, there was a word I learned a lot more about from my experiences there that I had never previously understood.
What is integrity? A quick dictionary reference would state the following. “Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.” Was I a man of integrity in my life back then based upon that definition? Definitely not. It took me another twelve years to truly become that.
The first part of that definition for integrity is about being honest. Over time I came to understand that honesty is not just about how I am when people are watching or listening to me. It’s also about how I am when people aren’t watching or listening to me. Here are some examples from my past where I wasn’t practicing the honesty part of integrity.
1. Sneaking into a movie without paying after emerging from the one that was paid for
2. Taking a candy bar, a pack of gum, or any item off of a store shelf and pocketing it without paying
3. Speaking about an event observed but exaggerating it for greater effect
4. Making things up at an AA podium to give off a look of higher importance
5. Taking food from roommates without asking and then trying to hide the action
6. Telling an intimate partner that they were the only one for me and then having several other people “waiting in the wing” if it didn’t work out
7. Painting a picture on the internet to people that wasn’t true
8. Getting a cup for water at a restaurant with soda dispensers and then drinking the soda free from them
9. Going into a buffet and having one person pay and then eating off of their plate
10. Buying an item at a store brand new for something I already had at home that was old and damaged and then returning the damaged one to get my money back
Before becoming more God-centerded in my life, examples such as these were commonplace for me. The harsh truth too is that I didn’t feel any of them were wrong at the time I was doing them. Normally, I would just rationalize why it was ok to do any of them when I was. The other part of the definition of “integrity” is a little more complex than this.
“Having strong moral principles.” It took a long time for me to really understand what that meant. Instead of trying to come up with a short and sweet definition to explain it’s meaning, I decided it was best to write another list of examples of when I wasn’t having strong moral principles.
1. Carrying on an intimate relationship with a married, partnered, or already dating individual regardless of their situation
2. Promising someone attendance at some event and canceling for a better offer
3. Telling someone they’re a close friend but never or rarely making time to spend with them
4. Going out with a friend and having them pay more than not
5. Talking about someone in a negative light when they aren’t present
6. Spreading rumors about someone that may or may not be true
7. Receiving a phone call from someone who is asking to call them back and never doing so
8. Giving someone a promise to perform a task and then passing it off to someone else or choosing to not do it at all
9. Keeping a person around only because of what they have to offer
10. Borrowing money from someone and not making any attempts to pay it back
These are just some of the many things that I’ve done in this lifetime that would be considered when I did NOT have strong moral principles.
Because of my initial exposure to integrity on the Warrior weekend, as time went on, I could no longer hide from any of the things I was doing that would be deemed out of integrity. Unfortunately, it still didn’t stop me from doing any of them even though I had the awareness. As with anything, the more my life got out of control and filled up with pain, the more I turned over the pieces of me that were still living in self-will to God. The biggest change for me with integrity came a year ago when the pain was so great everywhere in my life that I decided to turn my entire will and life over to God.
Since then, I wake up every day and ask God to be fully in charge of my life. That includes every facet of it. I find it next to impossible now to live a life without integrity. I’m not perfect and there are still moments I may find something I’m doing that could be labeled as out of integrity. In each of those cases, there’s a feeling inside me where something isn’t lining up in a positive fashion. Through prayer and making amends as necessary, I find that I don’t stay out of integrity long.
While the key to learning about integrity was given to me long ago on that New Warrior Training Adventure weekend, living a life full of it only came through giving up all of my self-will and choosing a higher path with God at the center of it.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson