What Price Integrity

Just recently I found myself in the position of having been accused of being paid to say something nice about someone. Now, I’m no stranger to being insulted. After being a police officer for more than three decades I can honestly say that I’ve been insulted a few times. In fact, I remember a time when a guy cussed me so well in Spanish that I had to ask him to repeat it in English just so I could decide whether or not I should be upset (me no hablo Espanol). Still, since I spend so much time behind this computer typing and there are a great many people (based on feedback emails) who depend on what I “say,” I got fairly upset about it being suggested that I sold my opinion. That particular situation was addressed, but the whole thing led me to ponder the value of integrity and how personal integrity affects our lives.

I remember being a little boy (maybe six or seven years old) and coming home from school to tell my dad that one of my schoolmates had called my mother a bad name. I clearly remember my father looking down at me and saying, “If you’re not telling me why you got in trouble for fighting then I don’t want to hear what people called your mother.” I didn’t understand. He had to explain. If someone insulted my mother, in his mind and from his viewpoint, that was a good reason for me to fight. I had to think about that.

Here I am, an unspecified number of years later – but obviously over 51 since I cited my more-then-30-years-of-police-experience above – and Lord knows that if someone insults my mother it isn’t going to get a rise out of me. By the same token, and I say this mostly in jest, you’d better not insult my dog!

Some things are obviously worth defending or fighting about, and some aren’t. I submit to you that protecting your integrity – your good name – your reputation… that’s WELL worth fighting for and you’re a fool if you ever let anyone attack it without fighting back HARD.

In my younger days I was accused of being a liar. In this case, when I say “young” I mean 18 years old in Basic Training for the Army. The accuser was my Drill Sergeant whom I had a lot of respect for. I didn’t have a choice but to show him respect. In this case, he had earned it. As I held him in high regard, I wanted for him to also view me as a person worthy of respect. What called my integrity into question was the matter of whether or not I had properly cared for my boots the night before. You see, back in those days – unlike today – we had to wear black leather combat boots that required cleaning and polishing every night. The use of saddle soap to clean the leather was required if they’d gotten wet, especially in salt-treated slush. Failure to clean them properly resulted in the white stains showing, even through a good layer of highly shined polish. The night before we’d been ordered to clean and polish our boots. I had. However, I had never before used saddle soap; didn’t know proper methods; and ended up not doing it properly.

The next morning in formation the Drill Sergeant looked at my boots with the white stains showing through and prepared to rip me a new one for not following orders. He said that I hadn’t used saddle soap at all. I maintained that I had and he called me a liar in front of the God and the rest of that training unit. With a firm, but respectful, voice I assured him that I was NOT a liar; that I HAD used the saddle soap as my squad mates would attest and I resented being called a liar even by a Drill Sergeant.

I thought I was going to be killed. He looked like I had slapped him across the face. To his credit he took a moment to absorb what I’d said, let it sink in… and then told me how screwed up I was because my squad mates hadn’t helped me do it right! Drill Sergeants HAVE to be right.

Later that day, away from everyone else, he took me aside and commented that he was quite surprised that I was so offended by having my integrity questioned. He told me he was happy to see someone who valued their reputation. What he said made me feel good.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say I’ve never lied. That (to me) is like someone saying they’ve never been wrong. Sure. Right. Whatever.

I freely admit that I’ve lied. As a cop attempting to manipulate a suspect into cuffs without having to fight one of us into the hospital I told LOTS of lies. Looking back I realize how bad a thing that may have been to do. As a teenage boy trying to get a girl where I wanted her I told my share of lies – like many a boy does. We think of them as exaggerations at the time. Every married man in the world has told a “white lie” at some point – because none of us wants to sleep on the sofa when we think what our wife is wearing is truly unattractive or makes her backside look too big. Some things you just have to be smart enough not to say.

But here I am, a writer of some 20+ years, with my written opinions being published through a variety of outlets that result in about a half million electronic distributions each month. A HALF MILLION. I’m not tooting my own horn – just stating facts. A HALF MILLION distributions. Readership on my website isn’t that big. My website receives about 30-40 thousand unique visitors each month resulting in about 90-100 thousand page views. Still, the people who visit my site and view those pages do so because they trust in what I write – or are simply curious about the circus freak… one or the other.

I have to admit that I’ve become more “politically correct” in my writing. That is to say that I’ve become less abrasive. Still, some things work; some things don’t. Some things are just plain crap. The fact that I don’t write CRAP has earned me a certain reputation that I value a great deal. A large part of that reputation is based on my experience as a soldier and as a police officer. I’m not a salesman. When my kids hear me talking about salesman (and lawyers) with such disdain, they used to wonder why. Now they understand – especially since two of them have worn a military uniform. When you trust your life to what comes out of someone’s mouth, then you have to trust that person. That person’s reputation has to be top notch. To maintain such a reputation requires attention to integrity in detail.

As we – the United States of America – move forward into the 21st century, we have to be aware of our past. We have to realize that certain values will never change, and if they do it can never be for the better. Any system which condones dishonest or illegal behavior is doomed to failure. What method of correction is used can be disputed ad nauseum, but in the end, the bad guy has to be punished. Good guys have to be recognized. Even a criminal can have some level of integrity.

In my world I want to surround myself with people of HIGH integrity. I want my friends to be people who I can trust with not only my life, but the lives of my family. I want my friends to be people who are honest – even if it hurts me (although I DO like it if they are gently honest if it’s going to hurt me). No one is perfect, but I appreciate those who strive to be. I appreciate those who consider what they say before they say it. I appreciate those who do what they say they will and don’t put up some facade showing what they think people want them to be. ‘No head games’ is a good way to think about it. Just be who you are but let who you are be someone people respect.

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