“Wisdom is knowing the right path to take…integrity is taking it.”
It was a sunny, spring morning in Kyoto. The Cherry Blossoms were in full bloom, spreading their sweet fragrance across the green landscapes of the Japanese archipelago. The Nijō Imperial Palace looked postcard-perfect in this idyllic setting.
I took a minute or two to soak it all in. I stood in the middle of the palace grounds, not caring that the rest of my tour group had already moved along. After a few moments, I hurried towards the main entrance of the Shōguns palace where I slipped off my shoes, a customary requirement when entering historic and sacred sites in Japan, before crossing the threshold.
When I found my group, our tour guide was in the middle of explaining Samurai traditions. “If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the floor make a chirping sound that resembles that of a bird. That’s why it’s called ‘Nightingale floors’. Legend has it that the squeaking floors were used as a security measure to ensure that no one could sneak around the corridors undetected.”
“You can infer that the Samurai were astute warriors. However, they also held themselves to high moral standards. They adhered to ‘Bushido’, a code of conduct that ensured they lived a life marked by loyalty, courage, compassion, and honor, above all else. When a Samurai committed to performing an action, nothing would stop him from doing what he said he would do. There was no room for dishonesty – the truth was what they lived by in all their dealings.”
The emphasis on honor still lingers to this day in Japanese culture. As a visitor, I could sense this in my dealings with locals. Not only was I touched by their graciousness but it restored my hope in humanity, knowing that honesty and integrity are still upheld in a world where many are willing to compromise the truth to win at all costs, whether that be in the workplace, or in relationships. In our modern society, many people place more importance on material gain than on being honest with themselves and with those around them.
But if the Samurai, known to be some of the fiercest warriors in history, held on to their integrity and loyalty, and were bound by this philosophy in all their battles and interactions, so can we. Even in our ‘dog-eat-dog world’ where deceit is prevalent, and people don’t always play fair, moving like stealthy pawns on the chessboard of life, we can be exemplars of these moral and ethical principles.
Some of you might wonder why we should bother trying if everyone else it is only it for themselves? As Spiderman emphatically tells the Green Goblin, we do it, “because it’s the right thing to do!” While there’ll be occasions when we’re tempted to tell ‘fibs’ and ‘little white lies’ with the best of intentions, we have to know when we’ve crossed the line to outright dishonesty that can harm both ourselves and others.
Holding ourselves to high ethical standards does not imply that we get it right all the time. Instead, it creates an intrinsic motivation to adhere to principles that can pave a path to help us out of any predicament in which we may find ourselves. Every day we will face situations that will tempt us into following low-vibe choices due to the influence of others. But it’s during those crucial moments that we need to stand tall in integrity and be true to our personal ethics.
Honesty and integrity form the foundation of fully functioning person. Without it, every other virtue will topple. The ‘goodness’ of someone is directly related to the presence of these qualities, and it is what earns the respect and trust of others. Even if being honest may hurt us in the short-term, it will always pay in huge dividends in the long run. It can potentially solidify a partnership, boost your self-image and reputation, and attract good Karma your way.
You’ll find that life becomes a whole lot simpler, lighter, and enjoyable when you have a clear conscience, free from the malaise of guilt, fear, or worry. If this sounds like something that you would like to emulate in your life, here are four steps that you can take to get there:
1. Make a list of role models and stories: Create a list of the people in your life who you think exemplify honesty and integrity. It may include someone in your immediate circle such as a family member, a friend, or a known figure from mainstream culture or history. There are plenty of exceptional people to choose from: Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Eleanor Roosevelt (just to name a few). These individuals stood by their beliefs in the face of oppression. Their stories of bravery and courage can serve as a reminder of the virtues that lie within us.
2. Set standards for your behavior: Setting personal standards for our behavior requires that we define ways to hold ourselves accountable for our actions and decisions. Be specific about your standards. For example, instead of stating a rule such as, ‘always telling the truth to my partner’, use a more clearly defined version like, ‘always being transparent with my partner about my whereabouts and activities so that he/she feels secure, safe, and loved.’ Remember that if you want to attract honest people into your life, you need to demonstrate this trait in your own character. If you repeatedly act dishonestly, you can be sure that the people around you will reflect that same behavior towards you.
3. Have a plan on how to deal with those who don’t demonstrate these qualities: As much as you try to stick with the truth, you’ll occasionally bump into those who don’t share the same standards of conduct. If you find yourself triggered, remember that you’re capable of taking the high road. You don’t need to stoop to their level. What helps me deal with these situations is realizing that people who lack integrity are hurting inside. It’s only when people harbor unhealed wounds and unresolved dysfunctions that they will feel the need to protect themselves with deceptive and manipulative behavior. Rather than engaging with them, take a strategic approach. In this post, I’ve provided details on how to deal with toxic people.
4. Teach and model these values to others: Like any behavioral skill, the more you practice it, the more ingrained these proclivities become in the makeup of your personality. You’ll find that being honest in all your dealings becomes a natural part of your conduct and you won’t need to put as much thought into it as you did before. The people around you will take notice and will respect you for your commitment to your integrity. This trait is especially important if you’re in a leadership position such as a manager, CEO, teacher, or parent. Former US President, Dwight D. Eisenhower once said that the supreme quality of leadership is integrity.
We all come into this world with a clean slate. We’re born as innocent, uncorrupted, and malleable beings. We can return to this pure state of being if we make the effort to peel back all the layers of hurt that have blocked us from tapping into our magnanimity and moral compass.
All my best on your journey,
Question: Is honesty and integrity an important value to you? How do you try to demonstrate these values in your life?