Integrity and Character

The first and only time I can ever remember stealing, I am pretty sure I was 6 years old. I was in Winn Dixie with my mom, on a Thursday, in the summer, and we were in the checkout line. Mom always had this tall, very thin blonde named “Flo” who checked us out. As we were standing there in line waiting, I saw this big, clear jar of bubble gum. It was Bazooka gum in the red, white and blue paper. It cost 1 cent a piece but I didn’t have a penny. I knew if I asked for gum, the answer would be no! So I just took a piece, when no one was looking, and put in my mouth on the way to the car. On the way home, my mother noticed that I was chewing gum and asked me where I got the gum. GUILT, TEARS AND FEAR all set in at once. To this day I can remember what I was wearing, red shorts and a white top. I really don’t have very many memories of being 6, except for walking back into that grocery store to confess to Flo what I had done and giving her a penny for the gum. I was utterly mortified. With fear and, literally trembling, I walked in and faced the situation that “I had created!”

I can honestly say, I have never taken anything since that wasn’t mine. It was a very painful but very valuable lesson to me on how my parents felt about stealing and taking something that wasn’t mine. In the fray of today’s world I hope and pray that all parents would make a big deal of such an incident, if they found their young child stealing. If kids are older than 6, especially in their middle years, there would be bigger consequences. Stealing is wrong on all levels. It is a character and heart issue.

I have been fortunate to know, and be a friend of, Eric Hyman and his beautiful wife, Pauline, for a number of years. I enjoyed getting to know them and establishing a friendship with them while he was the Athletic Director at the University of South Carolina. He is now at Texas A&M. I truly learned a lot from them up close and at a distance. I can remember Eric being quoted in the State newspaper, referring to college students, especially student athletes, and he said, “They come to college with integrity. They don’t find it when they get here!” I absolutely agree with that statement.

Integrity and character are meant to be established by parents. WE should model it and then teach and hold our children to a standard with a very high bar. Of course, as parents we can’t catch everything our kids do, but if we are intentional and choose to be active and engaged parents, willing to take the time and the patience to be actively involved in the lives of our kids, we can catch and teach many things. We as parents have a huge RESPONSIBILITY to our kids. We owe them the training and they should be taught the majority of these things at home. I would love to know that all mature adults would reinforce these principles, but unfortunately, everyone does not. Some adults are very poor role models with little or no integrity. I have learned to lower my expectations of some people who interact with our kids. I use those interactions as a teachable moments to talk to them about character and integrity, especially if it involves adults in leadership or authority over them. Some of those in authority just plain and simply do not live with integrity.

The dictionary defines integrity as HONESTY! adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character.

The following are some very wise benefits of living, examining and “shoring up”, and teaching integrity:

1. Living with integrity brings wholeness and peace. Your conscience (if you have one, and some do not) can rest easy and you can sleep well at night knowing you did the right thing, regardless of the outcome.

2. You are trusted by others. A person with integrity can be counted on and respected. All their relationships will be healthier, stronger and more satisfying.

3. A commitment to integrity allows one clarity when they have to make hard choices. You will not be at “war with yourself” over the path you should choose. It will be clear and it will breed confidence. You will not live in the realm of constantly being tossed about like a ball on the waves in an ocean, changing your mind or your word as circumstances change.

4. Having a Value system, “a moral code”, that you are committed to not compromise is valuable for a lifetime. Establishing this allows one to build a reputation of trust and respect that grows with time. Respect and trust have to be earned. One can be given those things but, if trust is lost, respect is lost. A famous quote that I love is this, “IT TAKES YEARS TO EARN A GOOD REPUTATION, AND A DAY OR ONE DECISION TO LOSE IT!” I see this lived out everyday of my life.

5. There will always be one million reasons to rationalize and compromise a value system and moral code. Justifications that seem to make good sense at the time. The reasons might help you sleep well at the time, and may bring success like a national championship or a win in a golf tournament or a successful business. But over time, lack of a moral code can lead to devastation down the road. One small justification leads to another (it blackens your conscience and self-denial sets in). Pretty soon the slope is so slippery you are gliding along. Time catches up and, when it does catch up, you find yourself scratching your head asking, “How did I get here???”

A very public example is Lance Armstrong. He had great success, wrote books and traveled the world. He spoke to millions but his small decisions left UNCHECKED led to complete and UTTER DEVISTATION on a world stage.

You wonder why you have lost respect or, even worse, you wonder why you don’t have any? You don’t have to be famous like Lance to walk around and lose complete respect and trust from those you live around and with whom you interact. (BY the WAY: You truly love someone if you gently call them out in an area of integrity. It really doesn’t matter if they listen. What matters is you loved them enough to do the HARD BUT RIGHT THING.) Some lacking integrity may even be able to get away with it for a lifetime. I can’t wrap my mind around them truly having a personal peace and satisfaction over a lack of integrity unless THEY JUST DO NOT HAVE A CONSCIENCE. Unfortunately, those people do exist and they aren’t all murderers.

6. A person’s lack of integrity (honesty) doesn’t just suddenly happen. It happens one small decision or compromise at a time followed by rationalization and justification. It is a dangerous place to live. It destroys.

7. Everyone, including MYSELF, would benefit from consistently examining and monitoring daily decisions and words to make sure they line up with a honest moral code. WE can have the most success, in my opinion, by following Godly principles. There are tons of Scripture in the Bible that instruct on integrity providing examples and promises that God gives:

Proverbs 10:9 “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.”

Proverbs 11:3 “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.”

Proverbs 2:6-8 “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.”

GOD’S INTENT FOR ALL MANKIND IS TO WALK AND LIVE A LIFE OF INTEGRITY: IT LEADS TO A SIGNIFICANT LIFE.

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