In my last post, I talked about the importance of being open, of not knowing too much too soon about what awaits us when we die, who God is, or how exactly and whether or not transubstantiation works. I truly believe the best thing we can say in the face of the Great Big Unknowables is, “I don’t know.”
And because I’m a big believer in the power of the paradox, I’m also about to tell you that I do, in fact, have some firm beliefs, all of which boil nicely down to the idea that if you don’t have integrity, you don’t have anything at all. I believe it’s important to note that the root of the word integrity also gets you to the word integrated—in other words, you should be who you are all the way through your being.
Here’s a story to illustrate.
Recently, I happened to be at a social gathering with a guy I’ve known since we were both kids. I wouldn’t call us friends, but we are friendly acquaintances, and he works in an industry adjacent to mine.
“Hey man,” I said, “we should find a way to work together.”
He told me that, in the past, when he’s worked with media outlets, it’s been a pay-for-play arrangement: He buys an ad, they give him five write-ups in a year.
“That’s the thing,” I said. “We don’t do that at Oklahoma Today. It’s actually super unethical for media outlets to do stuff like that.”
He grinned a pirate grin.
“Well,” he said, “there’s what’s ethical, and then there’s what actually happens.”
“Not when you’re talking to me, there’s not,” I replied.
I’d never thought to put it this way, but yeah, that’s the deal. Am I going to sit here and pretend that’s always been the case? Absolutely not. I’ve done things in my life upon which I look back and want to tearfully repent, to rededicate myself every Sunday morning for the rest of time, or just find a bar and drink until Jesus gets back. But I can’t, so I move forward, and now, yeah: We’re going to do what’s ethical, what’s right, you and me, if we work together. We just are going to.
I realized, too, as I said it that this is a radical stance, but again: You must be integrated. You must have integrity. You must be who you are all the way through your being. What you believe in must not only inform your actions—your actions must flow directly from the center of your being all the way out into the world, or you’ve no center at all.
And what’s with this idea that, oh well, let’s just do it this way because that’s the way the world works!
No. No, no, no. The world is ours, and we create it in the image of what we want it to be. I do not accept the idea that it’s okay to take ethical shortcuts because “that’s just how the world is.” Every time I’ve ever encountered that idea, it was floated by someone who didn’t want to do the hard work to get a result the right way. I occasionally am pressured, for instance, to take on a pay-for-play model of the kind described by my acquaintance: If someone buys an ad in the magazine of which I’m the editor, they get an ad. Except it’s unethical and could actually get us in loads of trouble. But I won’t do it, and I won’t even allow the appearance I’ve done it. Do I need more revenue? Absolutely. Am I willing to take that revenue if it means doing something I know to be wrong? Absolutely not. Are some among my competition doing it and sometimes beating the pants off me in the process? Absolutely. Does that matter? Absolutely not.
I lose all the time because I won’t cheat. And I’m one hundred percent okay with that. My acquaintance and I never followed up on our conversation, and I’m guessing we won’t be working on anything together any time soon.
So what do I believe? I believe in always looking for and trying to do the right thing. Even—especially—when it’s hard, when it costs, when it’s inconvenient. If you only do right when it’s easy, you don’t ever do right. You aren’t integrated. You don’t have integrity.
So I don’t know much, but I know that.