A few weeks ago, my aunt received a box that was accidentally delivered to her house. In the box was several bottles of very expensive essential oils used to fight colds and illness. She happened to be sick that week and I thought it was the universe’s way of saying “get well soon.”
Still, she called the company and explained the error. They were quick to apologize and offered to send a shipping label for her to return it. The intended recipient in Hong Kong, they explained, had already received a replacement order, but she could return the box at her convenience.
The shipping label, however, did not arrive. So she called the company again, explained the situation, and they assured her a label would be sent. Only it wasn’t. At this point, I would have just kept the darn box, but not my aunt. She opted to go to the post office and return the box at her own expense because it was “the right thing to do.”
Now, she didn’t really think anything of this, and the company probably didn’t even notice, but I was watching. I admired her integrity in that moment and the ease with which she made that decision. She refused to do what was easy, convenient, or beneficial, in favor of doing what was morally correct.
Reflecting on this, it became apparent to me that it’s the small choices we make when we think no one is looking that speak volumes about who we are at our core. Despite living in a culture that promotes self-interest, it’s up to us to determine what we value and let those values guide us. How well would you stick to your principles if you were tested?
I’d like to think of myself as the kind of person who would chase you down if you dropped $5 on the sidewalk. Honesty is a big deal to me. But, there I was, a devil on my aunt’s shoulder, saying hey, just keep it, isn’t this kind of their fault anyway? Put the phone down and consider it a blessing, I thought.
I realized, when it comes to integrity, we don’t get to pick and choose when to do the right thing. Just because it’s the mistake of some big company who wouldn’t blink at the $200 loss, doesn’t mean keeping a product you didn’t pay for is okay. It would be stealing. A diluted version of it, maybe, but even a fine line is still a line.
I think being aware of the line makes all the difference. For example, can we be honest liars? No, because there’s a line between the truth and a lie. But what about white lies? Half-truths? Exaggeration? Can you consider yourself an honest person if you lied about your height and weight on your driver’s license? What about if you use someone else’s license to buy alcohol? Where is the line?
If a lie is very close to the truth or said in an effort to protect someone (or yourself), is it not okay? When the truth is stretched to make a point, does it matter as long as you make the point? If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around, does it make a sound? In other words, if no one is going to find out about the truth… is it still a lie?
Yes. And our integrity is on the line. How much people trust you, rely on you, and count on you depends on your character. If we can’t be trusted with the little things, we can’t expect to be trusted with the big ones. Why do we lie, anyway? Why is it our inclination to say, “Sorry I am late, traffic was bad,” when really you took too long to get ready? Couldn’t we just say, “Sorry I’m late.” And if pressed further have the courage to admit poor time management?
Perhaps doing so would make us more self-aware. If we opted to be more truthful to others, we may find ourselves having to be more truthful to ourselves. Is the real reason you’re “not ready for a relationship” because you’re not ready, or because you don’t want to commit to the person you’re hooking up with? Are you staying with him despite x, y, and z because you believe it will change or because you’re too afraid of being alone?
The truth is being honest can be scary sometimes. Telling someone what is actually on your mind. Admitting that you’re unhappy in your job. Opening your eyes to just how unhealthy that relationship is and having the courage to end it. Saying “I messed up,” instead of placing blame. Taking ownership of your situation. Figuring out the real reason behind an addiction. Not hiding behind sarcasm or deflection.
The more we tell the truth, the more we live the truth. It’s not about good or bad, per se, but about honesty, transparency, and consistency. When you have integrity, people know you are going to do what you say you do. Your word is taken at face value. People trust you to do what is right, not what is in your own self-interest. When you have integrity, people look up to you, find you inspiring, believe in you.
That doesn’t mean you’re perfect and that you don’t make mistakes. It means if you do make a mistake you bite the bullet and admit it, learn from it and move on. You don’t spend your time trying to defend your actions, control other’s opinions, or divert attention in an effort to keep your mistake contained. This approach is not only unproductive, but unfulfilling.
Sure, you can get ahead by cutting corners. You can step on people that are in your way; instill fear by manipulating the situation; phone it in and take credit for the work. If your goal is to be “successful”, maybe the end justifies the means. If that’s the case, however, perhaps your definition of “success” should be re-examined.
It only takes a light wind or a soft whisper to dismantle a house of cards. If we build a slow and steady foundation based on firm values, kept promises, spoken truths, and genuine honesty, it won’t be shaken by time, circumstance or slander.
Integrity comes from the word integer meaning whole or complete. Living without integrity implies that something on the inside is missing, a fundamental component of our character. That kind of charade will isolate, exhaust, if not torture us, even if it pads our pockets and promotes our platform.
Yes, we’re human, we’re imperfect, we all need a little grace. But, it’s up to us to set a higher standard for ourselves; to establish our values and stick to them, even when it’s inconvenient; to hold ourselves accountable for doing what is right, even when it’s not what most people would do. I think it starts by surrounding yourself with people that would return the box.