There are foundational truths in life.
My grandfather used to tell me:
Over the years his lesson has been a compass. He intended that I understand what it means to be honorable, to have integrity, and his lesson has played a pivotal role in my personal development.
He was Old Breed Marine Corp, a veteran of WWII, fighting in the Pacific with the First Marine Division, Guadalcanal. He survived the war, and the Great Depression before it, working in the Civilian Conservation Corp and riding the rails across the country to pick fruit or do anything to make ends meet. He was hardened by life but honorable, and it was his way that looking someone in the eye with a handshake and a promise mattered.
When he gave his word, he meant it and he kept it. People on the receiving end of his handshakes and promises knew without question he was good on his word because they knew him. He had a deep respect for the act of earning things. His lesson to me was that actions speak directly to a person’s integrity. You never have to guess at the type of person you’re dealing with because their actions show you who they are.
At the heart of integrity lies the question:
Who Do I Want to Be?
Who we want to be is totally up to us. We choose who we want to be with every promise, commitment, and endeavor. The question of integrity, of ‘who I want to be’, is a fill-in-the-blank exercise repeated constantly throughout life.
Do I want to be taken seriously? My grandfather would say, “Better act like it.”
Do I want to be respected? “Better be respectful..”
Do I want to be trusted? “Better earn it…”
Exercising integrity is how we earn it…
It’s also how others earn our trust and respect, and it’s important we hold people to their word before lavishing them with our trust and respect. This doesn’t mean we should disrespect others before they’ve earned our respect. On the contrary, being disrespectful is never a show of integrity, it’s just ugly. Common courtesy, being considerate of others, is a sign of great integrity, especially when others around us are being inconsiderate and discourteous. Someone who is disrespectful, who lies, cheats, steals, or takes advantage of others has effectively chosen to act in ways that deny them the right to any respect or trust. Unfortunately, it’s too often the case that those who act out in such ways believe they are entitled to trust and respect. Too often, the most inconsiderate among us hold the expectation that people should trust and respect them without ever doing the work to earn it.
Expectation goes hand-in-hand with the current topic. When my grandfather gave his word to someone he understood that in doing so, he created an expectation…right out of thin air, like magic. The moment he gave his word, suddenly there was an expectation for him to fulfill it. They expected what he promised would come to pass. Some would have us believe that expectations are the root of all frustration, but what they fail to understand is that there is a big difference between leveling blind expectation and leveling expectation on a something promised.
There are times we might expect others to behave a certain way, or expect them to treat us a certain way, and when they don’t, they fall short of our expectations. That is leveling blind expectation. When we hold a person to an expectation they never promised to fulfill we orchestrate our own frustration. However, expecting someone to keep their word is right and good. Expectation in this context is not freely giving away trust and respect, it’s part of the process of allowing someone the opportunity to earn our trust and respect. It’s expecting someone to uphold their end of the bargain. If they choose to sign up for the task, to commit, we rightly level expectation on that commitment and hold them to it.
Inevitably, there will be times when people don’t act with integrity and don’t fulfill their promises, and so fail to earn our trust and respect. This should not invite disrespect or hurtful behavior. Merely dust off your sandals and walk away, Dear Reader, even though it hurts. It hurts when people don’t fulfill the promises or commitments they make to us because we don’t expect it. Unfortunately, some people simply don’t get it, don’t see it, or don’t care that their behavior is hurtful. Nobody in their life told them it wasn’t ok, or they were told but didn’t listen, or they listened but decided it was of little consequence. Sadly, some people couldn’t care less about anyone but themselves or their own situation or issues.
They aren’t in the habit of asking themselves who they want to be. They consistently hurt others and themselves because they do not subscribe to the simple tenet:
Trust and Respect are EARNED…
If you want to be respected, be someone others can trust.
Nobody likes feeling as though they’ve been taken for granted, minimized, or ignored. I have two personal mantras: (1) Do Better, Be Better and, (2) There is Always a Way. These are consciously linked to my grandfather’s lesson. Striving to do better means my actions will have the potential to benefit others, but they also benefit me, because I’m happier when I do good things, when I improve, when I act in ways that fulfill who I want to be. Believing there is always a way provides me confidence in my convictions. I know that when I give my word, I do so with confidence that no matter what, I will find a way to fulfill my commitment.
Putting more positive truths to work feels good because it affirms our legacy and purpose. The business of earning trust and respect doesn’t leave much room for shame, self-loathing, or anger. Also nice to know that the next time we encounter those who can’t see past their own noses we don’t need to stick around. We don’t owe them anything. In those moments, we can hold fast to our own mantra, knowing it’s enough to be enlightened and feel the freedom of our own honesty and integrity.
Thanks for the lessons Grandpa, I sure miss you.