[New Year, New You] Day 19: The Power of Personal Integrity
The way our modern society is organized, it is very easy to believe that the most valuable skills are those that involve a high capacity for traditional learning and knowledge. The “thinking” professions of medicine, pharmaceuticals, law, accounting, etc., are the most consistently high paying professions. Many professionals in the arts (music, drawing, painting, etc.) have a reputation for being “starving artists.” There are only a small percentage of artists who achieve significant financial success, never mind make a comfortable living at it, compared to the number of lawyers, doctors and accountants who consistently pull in the big bucks for what they do.
“Thinking” is the state of being most highly rewarded socially and financially, and it’s pounded into us for at least 12 years of the standard education most children receive. But it is not the most rewarding state of being, nor the most influential for improving your overall health, happiness, confidence and prosperity in life.
In fact, it is the least important and should receive the smallest amount of your time and attention compared with other, far more life-altering, confidence-boosting states of being, like certainty, self-confidence, the ability to trust your own perceptions, observations, and the ability to make decisions and to trust the decisions you make. When it comes to being alive and feeling alive, trusting your gut and having the courage to stand by your convictions is more important than just about any other thing you do in life.
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others.
You need to accept yourself.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
What The Heck is “Personal Integrity” Anyway?
You could lose all your money, lose all your personal possessions, your income and friends and even your relationships, and if that happened, you would still be left with the primary foundation of your life–your relationship with yourself–your confidence, your certainty, your ability to stay true to your values, goals and beliefs. If you have that, nothing can hold you back from making life go right and from feeling alive, no matter where you are, no matter what you’re trying to achieve.
I understand “personal integrity” as having the courage to be YOU–to say what you honestly believe and observe to be true, even when you are afraid of punishment or rejection. It’s being willing to hold your own ideas, state your goals and personal views and “take up space” as you are for who you are. This website defines “personal integrity” as the quality of being honest with yourself and others, and living a life that is aligned with your moral principles.
Personal integrity is knowing what you know, trusting what you know and having the courage to stay true to those observations in spite of pressure to do otherwise. And any time you compromised your own personal integrity, you broke trust with yourself and began to doubt yourself and your decisions.
Self-confidence has everything to do with trusting yourself and trusting your decisions.
“Thinking” vs. “Knowing”
What you KNOW based on what you have come to OBSERVE and experience is far, far, far more vital to your success in every area of life, than all the words that can be stacked in all the books in the world.
Consider the consequences of not remembering something for a math exam vs. ignoring your intuition about someone by marrying someone you “knew” wasn’t right for you. If, in trying to help you, someone just tells you to “think happy thoughts” or “believe in yourself,” or “stop worrying“ how helpful is that compared to a situation where something simply doesn’t worry you anymore because you see it and understand it better than you ever have before?
Any time in your life when your certainty about something you believed and knew to be true was ignored, degraded, make fun of, or rejected, chances are you slipped a little further down the chute in life and got a little more stuck in your head.
How to Get Unstuck From In Your Head
The modern educational system works as an excellent example of how people can get stuck in “think” and struggle to make real success in life or to achieve a strong sense of confidence and self-determinism (the feeling that one is deciding, or determining one’s course of actions in life). When there’s no practical application for what a person is learning–no way that they will use this information in life, and nothing that is personally important to them about it–then education is useless and will cause a person to reject the topic and become less interested in life.
Curiosity–the desire to know something–is the engine that will drive people up through the effort required to do things that get results in life. When the thirst for knowledge and understanding is strong enough, we find the courage and motivation to confront and overcome all kinds of obstacles to uncover new and empowering information about life.
We’ve covered that education and without doingness can keep a person stuck in their heads, and that a society that validates and rewards “thinking” can cause those who want to do, dream and create to feel a little left out–to withdraw rather than reach out! But there are other things that can cause this to happen as well, and they are worth discussing as I have already seen them to be occurring as THE primary factor behind most of our participants who are feeling “stuck in their heads.”
Beware the Head-Sticking Experts
There are certain people you likely encountered along the path of your experiences in life who, lacking courage, confidence and understanding themselves, did a fantastic job of sticking you in your head! To the degree that this person’s role in your life was important, or to the degree that standing up to this person would have represented a significant threat to your own survival and well-being, you may have felt you were unable to communicate about it, or handle it in any way.
I have seen in almost every case of every client I have ever worked with that where there were accidents, injuries, illnesses and upsets happening in life, there was someone the person did not understand how to safely face or handle. Usually, not always, but usually, that someone looked like a friend but acted like an enemy–it was a person who held a significant amount of control or influence over the person’s life and well-being.
- The principal who kissed the little girl on the lips, and said, “You’re my favorite. Shhhh… don’t tell anybody.”
- The priest who said God would forgive the young boy’s sins if he would submit himself to sexual acts with the priest.
- The mother who, in a dressing room at a store tells her daughter, “You’re just not naturally very pretty, so you should wear the clothes I pick for you.”
- The teacher who tells the student she’ll never amount to anything.
- The guidance counsellor who, when a young man comes for career advice about his lifelong dream to be an engineer says, “Well, your grades in the sciences aren’t that good, and engineering is really competitive…” While politely passing him documentation for a teaching college.
- The absent, career-focused mother who buys a “special” locket and a watch for her daughter before shipping her off to boarding school. She explains that the special locket holds little “happy vitamins” and tells her daughter that whenever the watch goes off, she should think of her mother and eat one of the little “happy” vitamins! 10 years later, riddled by suicidal thoughts with two children and a broken marriage, the daughter asks what were the “happy” vitamins she was taking for years, and her mother tells her they were anti-depressants. The daughter, even as a teenager, was never informed, consulted or given any right to choose.
- The wife who nags at the under-slept, hard-working husband that his leaving dryer lint in the dryer could burn the house down!
These actions may be disguised as “just trying to help,” but a punch in the face pales in comparison to the harm caused by a punch in the spiritual gut!
The more people have attacked what you believed was true, told you your ideas or goals or hopes were not important, or delivered some twisted form of “help” that felt more like a knife in the back, the more someone was trying to get you stuck in your head! It would have been much kinder for them to have simply kicked you in the teeth. A kick in the teeth is an easier attack to defend yourself against and you’re much more justified in kicking back!!
Do You really Understand Them?
If you had an abusive and alcoholic father, or a mentally ill and harshly critical mother, there could have been many things about this person you “didn’t like and couldn’t easily face.” Depending on your ability to resolve the confusions around that person or situation, you either set yourself free with clarity and understanding or it would have remained stuck to you (like a clamp on your livingness). What you fail to confront or face in your father, likely turns up in your spouse, and when you failed to handle that, it turned up in your child!
Until you achieve understanding and melt your problems with love, they certainly do have a tendency to follow you!
“In any relationship, you may want to check whether you have understood the other person. If it is a relationship that is harmonious, in which communication is good, then happiness is there. If communication and harmony exist, it means mutual understanding is there. Don’t wait until the other person has left or is full of anger to ask the important question ‘Do you think I understand you enough?’ The other person will tell you if you haven’t understood enough. He will know if you’re able to listen with compassion.”
If you would like to see a really inspiring interview for improving your quality of relationships with others, take a few moments to indulge and empower yourself with this video interview with Oprah. It explains some of his tremendous efforts to promote peace, and shares a pretty potent message of personal responsibility! If you’re short on time, start at about 10:40, when he answers Oprah’s questions about “deep listening.”
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
I don’t think suffering is an excuse for treating people poorly, but as I explain in the podcast, the biggest reason for this lesson isn’t necessarily for the other person, but for you! When you feel clamped down, unable to communicate, unsure of how to stand up for yourself, you feel less alive, and are less alive!
So What Does It Take to Communicate?
The reason situations like the above would have been harmful, is because most times the person to whom these situations were happening, simply didn’t know how to communicate, or speak up! The truth is, speaking up isn’t as easy as it sounds!
“Many people are reluctant to talk because they fear that what they say will be misunderstood. There are people who suffer so much; they’re not capable of telling us about the suffering inside. And we have the impression that nothing is wrong–until it’s too late.”
“Waiting has serious consequences. People may isolate themselves, they may suddenly end a relationship, and they may even commit suicide. Something had been bothering that person for a long time, but he or she pretended that everything was okay. Maybe fear or pride gets in the way. Listening and looking with mindfulness and concentration, we may discover that there’s a block of suffering in that person. We see that she has suffered so much and doesn’t know how to handle the suffering inside. So she continues to suffer and make other people suffer, too.
“Once you have seen that, suddenly your anger is no longer there. Compassion arises. You have the insight that she is suffering and needs help, not punishment.” (This is another excerpt from The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hahn)
Throughout our 21-Day New Year, New You Challenge we’ve covered a lot of different topics that address the importance of communication. Not just with other people (friends, enemies, etc.) but also with obstacles you have to overcome in life.
But of all the topics we’ve covered, personal integrity–your willingness to step up, speak up and stand up for the things you believe in, when you believe in them, may very well be one of the most important things you ever do. Because there are many people whose silence has caused them to feel stifled, stuck and “dead” on the inside, even while their hearts are beating and their chests rise with breath.
What makes you feel alive isn’t the oxygen you breathe or the food you eat, nearly as much as the courage you have to communicate what you believe is true and to stand by your convictions in life. And if this blog post helps you to do that even a little bit, then I’m grateful you took the time to read it and share your attention with me.
Hopefully the accompanying podcast will also be helpful in this area.
Hugs and a well-deserved hero-cape for you,