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Incorruptibility, that’s one of the words used to define integrity. As a child, I was impressed by biographies of Americans who seemed to have integrity. Of course, biographies written for children ignore truth that isn’t attractive, so children enter puberty believing something dreadful has happened to humanity because we used to be SO GOOD! Many of those children grow into adults naively still believing that founding fathers such as George Washington deserved not only honors but also haloes. They didn’t. They were human. We all are.
History is brightened by the stories of people who displayed integrity—people who refused to be less than they were meant to be, regardless of how difficult their path was. Just now, I’m reading THE MEASURE OF A MAN, life musings by Sidney Poitier, a man I’ve always admired. He credits his integrity to his early upbringing on an undeveloped island of the Bahamas. From the time he could walk, he was allowed to confront Nature on his own—the freedom, the beauty, the danger. He wasn’t protected. He could easily have died taking risks. He grew to rely on his instincts for self-preservation and his inherent worth as a part of all that is. Thus, when he was finally bombarded by soulless prejudice against his skin in the modern society, it seemed absurd.
I’ve always wondered what it is that makes women willing to accept the demeaning, secondary status so often thrust upon us. A female friend and I once sought reparations for blatant sexism that paid us far less than the men doing similar jobs—and we were awarded our back pay. But nothing changed. What made my friend and I willing to endure the ugly repercussions heaped upon us for our effrontery (we eventually moved on), when the other female employee who profited by our efforts never backed us at all?
Sidney Poitier says he believed he wasn’t merely just as good; he believed he was capable of being better than the people who were insisting he was inferior, and he wanted to prove it. Why do so few minorities, so few women own such confidence? Were we too protected as children or too indoctrinated in our own weakness, so we secretly agreed with those who would put us down? My friend and I grew up in families of all girls, so the idea that females couldn’t do anything seemed ridiculous. We painted and pounded and mowed as the neighborhood boys did. We were lucky. My mom set me free because she figured I was smart enough to take care of myself, and she had younger children to hover over.
As I watch people in the national spotlight proudly spout delusions of superiority, ignorance of fact, blatant corruption, and bullying, I wonder why they surrendered their integrity. Is the fame worth it? And why do their followers find them attractive? Do those fans harbor so much self-hatred, fear of everyone else on Earth, and immature motivation to bully somebody that they can’t remember (or never owned) true personal pride? Do they believe that treating anyone badly is going to make that person (or group of people) respect them instead of vow vengeance? Would they be grateful for being totally controlled?
Integrity isn’t something you put on for special occasions. It’s dignity, honesty, and incorruptibility built from within. It’s pride in being an independent, worthy part of all that is—no excuses, no shoulds. It’s the sign of a healthy, happy human being.