Sunday, August 25, 2013

Integrity for Grownups

This post is not actually all about me, even though it sounds like it and sometimes I'm self-absorbed like that so that wouldn't be an inaccurate perception. There's stuff going on. What I'd like to say is, I will treat others gently when met with matters of word, honor, and responsibility, because I see myself in them. I won't always and unyielding-ly hold people to their words ... they must hold themselves to their words, unless they feel in their hearts, minds and spirits that not holding themselves to their words would be a greater sin than following them. As for procrastination and denial ... those things hound me too.

Someone recently told me that they read (or thought up) what it meant to be a grownup. They got to live in their own place, go out with friends and do whatever or stay home and enjoy the solitude on their own schedule ... and went to the dentist without being bullied or dragged in.

In days of yore, people would say things like 'a man is as good as his word' and 'my word is my bond.' When thinking about these things as a young adult, I thought it meant that no matter how crappy things got, you followed through on promises, even if it killed you.

How do these things connect?

I'm not entirely a grownup, as my DH well knows. I don't go to the dentist for annual checkups or six month cleanings. I go when I feel a hole start to develop on the surface of a tooth, or if something hurts. And though I try to be careful to: A. only make promises I can keep and B. follow through when I say I'll do something, the hard reality is that I'm usually on the verge of being late for work almost every day (I generally arrive just a couple of minutes before I have to clock in) and that I'm a sloppy communicator, so I may not always mean exactly what I say. This has caused some irritation and grief over the years, mainly to my DH, who has to put up with my silliness and inconsistency and my tendency to race around the house looking for my purse when I ought to be walking through the door at my work site.

As I've grown older I've come to realize that 'my word is my bond' and 'a man is as good as his word' are more complex and beautiful and difficult than mere adherence to formally-made vows. The things we say, especially the things we say over and over again, are the things that people around us have to assume that we mean because otherwise the stuff that comes out of our mouths is worthless. We might as well not say anything at all. In fact it might be better not to say anything at all, especially if what we say is something to let ourselves off the hook when we fail.

Integrity isn't always as simple as a failure or a success, a truth or a lie. If I say I'm going to work really hard to get this project done by Tuesday, and the work is overwhelming so that I'm late on delivery but I stay in touch with the manager, let him know how things are going, and tell him as soon as I can that it's going to be done on Friday (or ask for help so that I can get it done on time), he'd be a pretty crappy guy to say "but you saaaiiiid you'd be done by Tuesday! You're a crappy employee!" My lateness shouldn't reflect on my integrity, just my powers of estimation. But if I say, "we can have whatever you want for dinner tonight," and then the suggestion is deep fried shrimp, potato salad and devil's food cake for dessert and I start to wheedle with "but it's so fattening and I'm really in the mood for a salad and some nice broiled fish ...." That's not fair. And I have pulled crap like that.

I've also realized that being responsible isn't just being response-able, though that is a huge and important part of being an adult. There's a need for people to grow and learn and constantly seek new ways to become better at surviving, thriving, and contributing. Being a responsible, grown-up adult also means facing and dealing with the unpleasant, scary, painful shit in our lives, and doing our part to survive, thrive, and contribute to the solutions that will hopefully lead to some improvement if not actual victory. Ignoring or hiding from problems, hoping that they'll go away or get better on their own, or convincing ourselves that they're maybe not so bad, or focusing on all the other stuff that goes on in our lives in the hopes that a lottery win will fix it all for us ... that's not being a grownup.

And I am not a grownup. Not all the way. I hope I'm getting better, stronger, smarter, more competent. I hope that my efforts and communication skills transmit to the people that I love that I probably won't be done by Tuesday, but that I'm working until I'm exhausted every waking hour trying to fulfill my promise. And when I whine for broiled fish and I see the look of betrayal in my friend's eyes, I hope I'm forgiven, though now both dinners are poisoned for everyone because of the guilt and the betrayal. I hope I don't pull that kind of shit again next time I work to deadline or yield a decision to someone else, if I'm given the honor of a next time. Part of what motivates me to do better is the awareness that my friends don't have to forgive me. To respect them, to honor them and to build integrity, I must assume that they might not forgive me.

Damn I've got a lot of growing up to do.

I won't drag my friends to the dentist. They have to go to the dentist themselves. For my part, if they ask, I will be honest about the decay I see, and offer what insights I have. However unworthy they may consider themselves to be for whatever they have done or not done, unless they've managed to hide something extreme like that they're a bunny-raping axe murderer, I know we are akin in our imperfections, and forgiveness, understanding and love will remain possibilities in our ongoing lives.

One last observation. The things that we are most ashamed of or most fearful of might not be what our friends and families find most painful and distancing. So often it's not the mistakes we make, but what we don't do about them or don't say about them that damage our integrity the most. Those times that we are most afraid, hurting the most, and the most isolated are often the very times we need to reach out, if for no other reason than to get a second opinion from people we trust. If we have chosen our friends wisely, it's more likely that our worst nightmares of condemnation and isolation will vanish, and we'll wake into a world of support, caring, and with the hope of a fresh new start.

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