How do you show up in the world? Are you acting the way you want to? Are you being the person you want to be? If not, why not? In todays episode, I want to talk about how to live with integrity and be the person you want to be.
Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.
One of the most important things that we can do in our lives is to live with integrity. Now what do I mean by integrity? The word integrity has several definitions but my favorite is “something that is sound or whole”. It also has the same root as integrated. For me integrity means that you as a person are integrated, that your words match your choices and actions.
How does this kind of integrity show up in our daily lives? When we live with integrity, we live our lives in such a way that we hold to our principles and values even when, or especially when, there is pressure on us to do otherwise. When others would have you bend to what they want, you hold true to the principles that are important for you. It means that you follow those principles when no one else is watching. It means that you are the person that you want to be regardless of what anyone else says or does.
So what are the things that get in our way when we try to live this kind of life?
There are plenty of things that happen our lives that can knock us off our path and make our life challenging. When we hit these circumstances, we often blame them for the problems in our lives. We may use them as excuses to give up. But I think when we do this we’re forgetting that these challenges ARE the thing we’re trying to overcome and work through. These are the things that make us stronger. Wishing these things away or placing blame on why those things outside of us cause us to not be the kind of person we want, is not stepping up and take responsibility for ourselves.
Another thing that can make it challenging for us to live with integrity is when we get caught up in worrying about the opinions of others. If we do things because we want others to like us or praise us, we can lose our sense of who we are. We may do things that we really don’t want to.
When I was in sixth grade, I really wanted to be liked by a bunch of older kids. We wanted to get into the school after hours so that we could get some soft drinks from the vending machines. We hatched a plan where I would climb on top of the school and drop myself into the atrium. The door to the atrium wasn’t closed all the way, so I would be open it and then let the other kids in. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go to plan and I got caught by the janitor and got in trouble the next day with the princip , all because I wanted to be liked by these kids.
I think the last part to living with integrity, is that we often don’t know exactly who we are and what we want. The culture that we live in has a very large influence on what we hold as valuable. In some cultures, being strong and tough is something that is valued. In others it might be beauty or money, or intelligence and kindness. Through our families, schools, media, churches, and community, every one of us is exposed to explicit and subtle messages of what our culture thinks we should value, and what kind of person we should be. These external values and expectations that we are given that have a strong influence on us our whole lives.
So how to we decide how we want to show up in the world? How do we become a more integrated person, a person who lives with integrity?
Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.
First and foremost, we need to get to know ourselves and what we truly value. This is not an easy process, because we have to learn to be really honest with ourselves. We all have a set of beliefs that we hold on to to try and make sense of the world. When have to question the belief systems that we grew up with, it can be really uncomfortable, and downright unsettling. We may find that many of them aren’t helpful or stand up to scrutiny. It may mean that we have to make disruptive changes in our lives. It may mean cutting out people that are unwilling to support us in our growth.
When I left the Mormon church, it was a slow and drawn out process. I never really felt like it was the right thing for me, but because I had been told my whole life that it was the only truth, it was really hard to even question it in the first place. I reached a point where I felt like I just couldn’t live that way, even if it was true. Over time I finally realized that the real question was not whether I could live it or not, but did I believe it because I thought it was the truth, or did I just believe that because I had been told over and over that it was. Once I was willing to open up and question that belief system, I found that I had only held onto it because it was what was expected of me. I was doing it to please others.
Once we decide to question our belief systems, we nee to expose ourselves to all kinds of different ideas. We need to be willing to consider ideas that at first might feel uncomfortable. We need to be willing to have an open mind and try to consider things from different perspectives. This can include things like reading books on challenging ideas. It may mean having respectful discussions with people you may have differing opinions with. We should be willing to let go of ideas that don’t serve us.
I know for me, a big influence was the time that I spent in Austria. It was so different from the culture I grew up in, and it exposed me to different values, and different ideas that I might not have considered. I met people from all over the world, ate all kinds of different foods, and learned about historical events and places that changed my worldview that probably wouldn’t have happened if I had just stayed in my small part of the world.
If you decide to live by lofty principles, be prepared to be laughed at by others. You may hear snide remarks: “Oh, here comes the philosopher!” or “Why are you so pretentious?” Just ignore those comments. But make sure that you don’t become pretentious. If you stick to your principles, people who make fun of you will eventually come around and may even admire you. However, if you let others influence you to give up what you started, you will be ridiculed twice: firstly, for following these principles, and secondly, for giving them up.
The last idea I want to talk about of how to live with integrity, is that once we learn who we are, and decide the kind of person we want to be, we need to learn how to ignore what other people think of us. And this, is often really hard because we want to be liked by others. But if other people are not going to like us for who we really are, then they are people we probably don’t want to be around. Also, what others think of us is not under our control, so we need to let it be. If we let what others think of us change how we act, then we are giving control to them. We should be the person that we want to be regardless of what others think of us or wish us to be.
Living with integrity is probably one of the most challenging things you’ll even do in your life. When you live with integrity, you take full responsibility for your emotions, thoughts, and actions. You stay true to who you are no matter what others think of you. You make choices and take actions that align with your character even when it’s hard, and even when no one is watching.
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