Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

A New Now:

Breaking Your Word Yet Maintaining Integrity

Andretti Winery, Oak Knoll Appellation, Napa Valley, California, USA

July 12, 2015

This essay, A New Now: Breaking Your Word Yet Maintaining Integrity, is the companion piece to Honoring Your Word.

I am indebted to Scott Forgey who inspired this conversation, and to Charlene Afremow who contributed material.

There are times when I've had to re-look at, re-think through, and even unravel and start afresh notions I once considered to be paramount if not essential to living a good, decent (not to mention powerful and creative)  life. Take for example the notion of being in integrity. From a very young age which included many constructive years in the Cub Scouts (I was a sixer  in the 2nd Kenilworth pack) and then in the Boy Scouts (I was a patrol leader in the 3rd Claremont SACS troop), I learned integrity was a matter of keeping my word - indeed, the first bastion of the ten-part Boy Scout law is "A scout is trustworthy" [keeps his promises]. Breaking my word / breaking my promises was a bad thing (that's how I conceptualized it in those days) to be avoided at all costs. That's what I knew back then. And back then there were occasions (many of them actually) when I didn't keep my word - or worse, couldn't  keep my word due to circumstances. The extent of my mastery of integrity in those days consisted of "I must keep my word, and woe betide me if I don't.".

It's now many decades later. Integrity is still a central issue in my life - that much hasn't changed. However while keeping my word was once the essential component of integrity, integrity is now more related to wholeness and being whole and complete than it is to the threat of something bad happening if I don't keep my word. And when I began being with Werner in the conversation about integrity being a matter of honoring  my word even more than it's a matter of keeping  my word, it triggered a breakthrough for me. It was more than that actually. It was that my life would never be the same again. Honoring my word as distinct from keeping my word, offers a way to be in integrity even when I can't keep my word. That's an aspect of integrity the Boy Scouts didn't teach me (and probably never knew about).

The Monk Who Renounced Renunciation

I have a friend who became a monk. He renounced sex (and money and all other worldly things) and took a vow of lifelong celibacy. For many years he lived a life of contemplation, meditation, worship, and prayer. Even as I admired his lifestyle, I knew I could never do what he did. And then one day he got married! Just like that. The celibate monk actually got married (who woulda thunk?). Not only did he get married, but he also announced his wife and he were expecting a baby. Their relationship was a moving, shining, beautiful example of what's possible between a man and a woman. And it posed a question for me: "What happened to his integrity ie where  is his integrity, now that he's broken a lifelong vow of celibacy?" - remember for me, the essential element of integrity was keeping one's word.

I had no answers. Neither, by the way, did I have any judgement of him for not keeping his word. Rather I was interested in seeing where his broken word fit into my own context for integrity ie whether or not I could fit it into my own context for integrity.

This much I knew: he was committed (to being celibate) once ... and then he wasn't committed any more ie he was committed until  he wasn't committed any more. We're never committed (which is to say commitment doesn't show up) in the past. Commitment doesn't show up in the future. We're only and always committed now. And now  is actually not one now but is rather a series  of nows (if you examine this assertion for yourself, you'll see it's true). There's now  ... and then there's now  ... and then there's now etc etc. It's new every now. So I could say he was committed to being celibate in the now in which he was committed to being celibate. But now it's a new now. And in this new now, he's no longer committed to being celibate.

Hmmm ... I could almost  buy into him breaking his word without anything being bad when I looked at it that way. He was committed in that  now ... but he's not committed in this  now. I'll buy that for a dollar. And yet it still carried three strikes for me. The first strike is: whichever way I cut it, he didn't keep his word. The second strike is: justifying the breaking of a commitment by saying "I was committed in that now but I'm not committed in this now" is a little too ... well ... flaky  for me. It's tantamount to saying "I discovered I was committed to being celibate in that now but in this now I've discovered I'm no longer committed.". Wait! "... I've discovered  I'm no longer committed"??? I can use that to justify anything anytime I break my word, yes? Discovery isn't a platform for being committed. Where's his given word in the matter? Where's his taken stand in the matter? And the third strike is: I'm left totally unclear about the integrity of his commitment if it's simply a function of the now in which he discovers he's committed (or not, as the case may be).

Breaking One's Word In A Context Of Integrity

To cut to the chase ie so as not to belabor this any longer than is necessary, I've resolved this for myself. I've resolved for myself where breaking one's word has a place in integrity - and it does have a place in integrity. But I didn't get it until I listened Werner speaking it. I didn't get it until I listened Werner demonstrating that keeping one's word actually isn't a great yardstick for integrity (the first bastion of the Boy Scout law notwithstanding), and that it's honoring one's word which works well as a yardstick for integrity. Neither did I get it until I lost ie relinquished ie gave up all the bad I had wrapped around breaking my word. It's waaay  simpler than that, and "bad" only accentuates the melodrama ie it only adds to the soap opera ie it only piles on the significance.

This is what I got:

I am my word. That's very real. Posing the question "Who am I?" evokes lots and lots and lots of answers. Who I am is Laurence. Who I am is a human being. Who I am is a man. Who I am is my occupation, my commitments, my interests. Who I am is Conversations For Transformation. But isn't all that just who I say  am? Is it possible I'm all that because I say I'm all that?

Consider this: what it might all come down to is who we are is our word. And honoring our word as who we are may be as near a dictionary-perfect definition of integrity as there could ever be. So now the question is this: is my friend, the no longer lifelong celibate ex‑monk, out of integrity because he broke his vow? And the answer is no, not if he honors his word. Honoring your word includes telling the truth when you break your word. Anyone who plays at a level even slightly higher than being small all the time, is bound to break their word more sooner than later. It's the act of a big  person to promise big, and not be able to deliver 100% of the time. What's out of integrity is not  never breaking your word. What's out of integrity is not telling the truth about it and not cleaning it up afterwards when you do.

My friend, the no longer celibate ex-monk, didn't simply change his mind. Neither did he suddenly discover he had become un-committed. And neither did he give his word in one now, and then in a new now didn't give his word again (ie neither did he not continue giving the word he gave in an earlier now). What he did was he broke his word - period. That's how you say it. He gave his word. Then he broke his word. No excuses. No whitewash. Just straight talk. There's no bad in that. It's just what he did. There's no melodrama in it either (excuses just extend the melodrama). It ends the soap opera (blaming the circumstances just prolongs the soap opera). All the significance around it goes away. He broke his word. That's the truth. That's straight talk.

Now watch: if the only definition of integrity in play is "keeping one's word" then he is also out of integrity. However if Werner's "honoring one's word" is in play as a definition of integrity (and it will be if you say it is), then there's the breakthrough possibility of breaking one's word, not keeping promises, renouncing vows ... yet still being in integrity. That's huge.

Integrity: The Bottom Line

Gee! I hope you get that (it certainly took me a while to get it). So you broke your word? Or you couldn't keep your word because of the circumstances? Because you forgot? Or because you simply flaked out?  Or even (and I really want you to get this) because you changed your mind?  Big deal. Stop making yourself bad about it. Making yourself bad has no integrity. You are your word. Honor your word. You broke your word? Tell the truth about what you did, clean it up, and move on. That's how you stay in integrity when you break your word. That's how you maintain integrity in a new now, even if you broke your word or broke a promise or renounced a lifelong vow you made in an earlier now.

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