“It’s hard to make a man understand something if his livelihood depends on him not understanding it.” ~ Upton Sinclair
I was 16. I’d just got my motorcycle licence. I was giddy.
Giddy in that sweet, breathless, heart-bounding way. Color is saturated. Everything grand.
Out on my own bike, own path; I could go wherever I chose. I went straight to the Army Surplus store – needed a few things for the bike.
Still awkward, I lugged around the bulgy helmet, too obsessed to leave it with the bike.
But, holding the helmet meant having no basket. No basket meant the helmet carried the goods.
Still excited. Still giddy. I didn’t know I was being watched.
Got to the counter: old black military boots, boot polish, nifty swiss-army-like knife. Bought them all. But the bike straps … they were black, like the helmet. They lay hidden, forgotten in the make-shift basket
I was outside, on my way to the bike, when I heard her voice. A super-sized service assistant stood beside her. She’d been watching.
Up in her office she told me she’d already called the police. I was charged with shop-lifting. She asked why I didn’t look worried.
That’s easy. I don’t shop-lift.
My parents had told me integrity mattered. Being able to smile at that leathery security lady taught me why.
20 years ago I learned that lesson. In the last five years I’ve come to be grateful. My business exists on integrity.
“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” ~ Alan Simpson
My father-in-law asked if I ever get nervous advising billion-dollar companies or guiding multi-million-dollar government investments. He asked if I ever worry about being wrong. Do you, he wondered, ever have soft-spots to hide?
That’s easy. I don’t leave soft-spots.
I don’t lie. I don’t cheat. I don’t take work I can’t do.
Don’t include pieces that shouldn’t be there. Don’t leave out pieces that should be in.
If I owe, I pay. If I say I’ll do it, it is done. If I say I won’t, I never do.
I can smile at any leathery anybody. That’s easy.
We get hired to create clarity. That’s usually a fairly sensitive thing to need. Most are reluctant to ask.
Not one client would come if there was even a suggestion that our integrity was jeopardized. You don’t bring your most difficult problems to people you can’t trust.
“Principles have no real force except when one is well-fed.” ~ Mark Twain
But I’ll say this: Integrity is expensive. I keep track and sometimes total-up the business I’ve declined to protect integrity. In the last three years, that number is just about $750,000. And inside those three years are patches where saying no to a contract meant there was absolutely nothing in the pipe.
“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” ~ William Faulkner
There are days when I wonder about this conviction.
What of this drive to peerless?
Is it just arrogance? Maybe I’m naive?
I’ll probably look back at these years and smile. Shake my head at that young man – so earnest, so strident.
But, right now, it feels right. That’s about all I have to go with.
I know that if I’m to do all the things I dream of doing – I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be higher. I have to be huge.
I have to stand in front of the world’s most influential decision-makers and grin: That’s easy.
“The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.” ~ Japanese Proverb
“I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the house-tops.” ~ Oscar Wilde
What a niggly little thing integrity is. So fragile. So critical.
Comprised of a billion small acts. Obliterated by just one.
It’s no panacea either. It doesn’t absolve responsibility. It isn’t an excuse. I can’t say, wrapped in a shawl of integrity, that I’ve no need of experience, persistence or grace.
Integrity finds its best use in the hands of the active. In the hands of those ready to invest, learn, climb, gather, and accomplish. It’s in the act that integrity is rare.
For the stagnant, low, and unaccomplished, integrity is part of most options. Of a hundred alternative paths, probably half would hold true to integrity. It’s among the high, few, world-class actions that integrity is so hard to find. Among a handful of alternatives, integrity might be part of just one or, more often, none at all.
My problem today is that integrity matters too much. It’s still a conscious and often aggressive choice. I’d rather it was inert – like crystal.
Will it grow to be translucent? Will it become a hardened vessel, ready to carry all the liquid parts of a richly lived life? Will it always be this organic, pulsing, winding tendril?