I have come to realize that there are three fundamental things with which we are issued at birth; kind of like your first day in the military. After the initial issue, it’s largely up to us to decide how long and how willingly we will carry them. I am referring to your life itself, your virginity and your integrity. The one thing in common with this list of seemingly disparate items is that once gone, they can never be reclaimed.
Your life can be taken in the blink of an eye. It can be taken in an accident, a senseless act of violence, or it could just be nature cleaning out the pantry and getting rid of all the expired “Best if used by” items still unopened on the shelf. You can even make the choice to take matters into your own hands and as Hamlet observed, “…Take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them”. (Hamlet, Act III, Scene I).
As for virginity; as we have seen repeatedly in the media lately, there are innumerable predators who make it their mission to abuse and take this valuable gift from as many innocents as possible. Once again, this is an area we think we have, or at least should have, complete control over when, where, how and to whom we surrender it, but all too many people never get to make that choice for themselves.
The only item on the list over which we have total and complete control is our integrity. By the way, the Online dictionary defines integrity as, “The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” In short, it’s knowing what the right thing to do is and getting off your ass and doing it.”
In the larger context, I have frequently argued that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are totally arbitrary distinctions determined by the individual’s standards and moral compass. However, I am also willing to concede that they are also heavily culturally influenced. For example, if you were walking down the street and saw a twenty dollar bill lying on the sidewalk, I imagine that in the Western world, most of you would bend down, pick it up and smile at your good fortune. However, in Japan, this is considered not only rude but dishonest. They feel that since someone lost it, by picking it up you are denying the rightful owner of the opportunity of reclaiming their property and in fact, taking what is not yours. Is one more ‘right’ than the other? Again, individual standards and cultural expectations automatically polarize the decision into positive or negative. An even shorter definition of integrity is, “Being able to look yourself in the eye in the mirror in the morning and not flinch or be ashamed of who is looking back at you.”
The thing about all three items on the list is that once taken or surrendered, they can never be regained. A pretty harsh reality.
I frequently espouse the proposition that events in our lives are largely out of our control. We can plan and organize as much as we want, but things are going to turn out the way they will turn out regardless of our best efforts. It is then up to us to choose how we will react to those stimuli.
I’m not going to blow sunshine and rainbows up your rear-end; doing the “right” thing is often hard, usually much harder than just surrendering to the situation and allowing yourself to be swept downstream. As Viktor Frankl said in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
One of the best encapsulations of this concept I have found is in a soliloquy delivered by Al Pacino in the character of Lt. Col Frank Slade in the movie, The Scent of a Woman, “Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew, but I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard.”
To me, this whole film is about a man who surrendered his integrity a long time ago and has spent the intervening years living a life of reckless abandon in an attempt to run from his own choice. Frank comes to a point in his life where he meets a young man who is in big trouble for standing up for his principles. Frank sees the opportunity for redemption by helping this young man stick to his principles and maintain his integrity in the face of being expelled from a school that could likely make his future one of wealth and success. Whether or not he gets expelled is out of his hands, but what he does control is his decision to stand up for and maintain his principles and keep his integrity. How many of us would have the courage to make the same decision when confronted with the same choice?
My grandmother used to be fond of saying that integrity is doing the right thing even when it’s hard and no one is looking. Well said, Gram!
My question to you is when you reach the crossroad are you going to take the easy road even if you know it’s the wrong road, or are you going to suck it up and march down the hard and rocky road, simply because it’s the right thing to do? Because, when it comes down to it,
The Choice is Always Yours.