Non-boring Newsletter #4: Negotiating the Integrity Trap?

Can you have too much integrity? No. But you sure can be so in love with your integrity that you miss the mark in a bad way.  That’s what this non-boring human flourishing note is about.

Love and integrity are two heady values. Many humans and all universal religions ask us to love and have integrity. You may meet people who do not love and for whom their word is not their bond. But even those people do not like to be lied to (they expect to be lied to but they don’t like it). No healthy person wants to be lied to. No healthy person wants to be denied love. Love and integrity are universal goods.

So far, so good. But there is also the problem of falling in love with our virtues: 

We become cannon fodder for people who do not have our interests at heart!

Here’s how it plays out for me: 

I make a commitment to a group or person. Many of these work quite well. I hold up my end of the bargain as best I can. (I’m not perfect!) They do too.

But in some cases, the other side blows off their agreement. They are not accountable to our relationship or agreements.  

Instead of saying, “Wow. What do I do with a breakdown in accountability? What are my options?” I admit I have too often dug in and said, “Their bad faith won’t change me!” (Hmmm. Is that the real issue here? I thought the issue was the other side didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.) “They can’t veto how I act with integrity.” (Relevant, much?). So…(wait for it)…I then have all too often gone down the path of, “I’ll live with integrity even while they don’t (Allegra…don’t go there!..) and have the delight of having done ‘right action’ while I totally get pulled off my path and serve other people’s agendas.” (KER-PLOP! Into the ditch of self-abuse falls our plucky protagonist. Again.)

Right action is a good thing! Keeping commitments is a good thing!

So, here is what I offer:

Maturity helps. Simple platitudes are good for rules-of-thumb but wise people see their limits. “A woman’s word is her bond” is actually way more complex than just me and my commitment to integrity. There was an agreement that was made before the bond was given. And that agreement is something folks like you to forget when they are taking advantage of you.  

We must also love accountability, allowing other people to be the adults they are, and the many, many other commitments we have in life.

Pride. Being blinded by love for my own virtue gets me smushed. It’s a form of pride. And pride goeth before…ker-plunk.

Self-assessment: Why am I so in love with these virtues that I pursue them to the point of getting myself smushed? For me with my integrity blindness, it’s not hard to understand how I got here. 

I’ve been painfully disappointed by non-accountable people. I don’t want to be them. I have to acknowledge – and really remind myself – that this fact is not relevant when I’m dealing with a complex set of commitments (not just my commitment to my integrity) or someone who changed the deal without telling me.

(Same goes for love. Look at the literature on family systems. Many, many a dysfunctional family has created a crazy system and instructed everyone to call that “love” when it’s really just “how we keep up a system of one person feeling superior while the other person isn’t fully accountable for his/her life.”)

I need to realize I have several options when the other party breaks an agreement – with or without telling me.  There may be a remedy I want to pursue. I try to always have a “team charter” I work out in advance that has conflict resolution support built-into it.

Practice right action. But also remember there are other virtues at play such as accountability.  Sometimes we just need to cut our losses and bear the frustration of the other side calling us names. 

Finally, life is hard. But I do not believe human life is a tragedy. I have the opportunity today to take responsibility for all of my results, not just the ones I like. Not everyone got to live to today. I have this moment and it’s not a tragic moment. It’s a beautiful one.  

Here’s a sonnet from these pages (The Poetry Brigade) :

I failed to execute my first pull-up.
In my growing frustration I recalled
A hateful fact: there’s no silver bullet
When building my muscles. I must resolve
To be an awkward student. Persevere-
Though inside my heart I’ll be confronting
My demons. But demons may disappear
If we have faith we can achieve the thing
In time. Building character is much like
Doing chin-ups. Daily growth at length
Readies me for the awful day life strikes
My core. I’ll need that moral strength.
Character is the capacity to act
On moral principles and vital facts.

-Allegra Jordan, 2019.

Here’s to a better, more realistic relationships that help us flourish!


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