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




Six* Definitions Of Word

Panda Express, Napa, California, USA

August 14, 2017



"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." ... Flannery O'Connor

This essay, Six* Definitions Of Word, is the fourth in the quadrilogy Keeping Your Word:
  1. Keeping Your Word Means Making Happen What You Said Is Going To Happen
  2. Keeping Your Word Is A Black And White Issue
  3. Three Distinctions Of Word
  4. Six* Definitions Of Word
in that order.




I've been naïve. I see that now. My earliest notion of integrity came from what I assumed I was s'posed  to do, without really investigating what integrity entails. For example, my earliest notion of what it was to have integrity, was that I kept my word. That's what I was s'posed to do (I was a good Boy Scout:  I was trustworthy).

The thing is this: it's only possible to always keep my word if I never play big. When I up my game, it's not a matter of if  but when  I discover I can't keep my word all the time. Playing a bigger game ensures I'll be giving my word to bigger commitments, some of which are almost certain to not pan out exactly as I planned. And what does it say about my integrity if I don't (which is to say if I can't)  keep my word? For example (and this is just an everyday occurrence - it's not even taken from a big game): I promise I'll meet you at 3:00pm - that's me giving my word, yes? I set out on the freeway with plenty of time to get to you, and there's an accident. An eighteen wheel semi  is blocking two lanes. Traffic is going nowhere. There's no chance I'll be on time - which means there's no chance I will have kept my word.

The question is: am I now still a man of integrity? By my own earlier definition, it would seem I'm not: I haven't kept my word.

I've investigated this situation. I've inquired into it, pushing through the pea soup, the murk  which was all I could see around it at first. It doesn't seem tenable that random circumstances  should have such an impact on my integrity. And yet the way I had it set up, they could. That's the consequence of assigning keeping my word (and only  keeping my word) as the determinant of my integrity. It occurred to me it wasn't my integrity which was lacking, and neither was it random circumstances which should be held to account (or worse, blamed) when I'm out of integrity. Rather it was that I needed a more rigorous definition of integrity itself (the hazard inherent in locking my integrity exclusively into keeping my word no matter what, had become only too clear).

More workable than "keeping your word" as a determinant of integrity, is Werner's "honoring  your word". Honoring my word includes  keeping my word ie doing what I said I would do ... and  in addition, if I'm not going to be keeping my word (as in the case of the semi blocking the freeway), then calling to say I'm not going to be keeping my word, and / or resetting the time I'll be keeping my word, and cleaning up any mess I made by not keeping my word. Honoring my word in this way, is senior, mature, adult - in other words, it's a graduate  distinction. Keeping my word however well-intentioned as the only  determinant of integrity, is simply naïve.

As I grew into this new definition of integrity, I began noticing something else: the word I was honoring was "what I said I will do". "What we said we will do" is almost always the word we refer to when we give our word ie when we make a promise. It's the word I refer to when I promise to keep my word. In conversations with Werner, I began entertaining the possibility that "what I said I will do" is only one  definition (the most common definition) of what I refer to as my word. I saw my word actually has five more  definitions. I've transcribed all six* of them immediately below, honoring all of them if I'm going to stake a claim to having integrity.

But even that's  naïve. Werner casts integrity as a mountain with no top. The more I confront being in integrity ie the more I confront honoring each of Werner's six* definitions of word, the more I notice sub-areas in them where I'm out of integrity. Being in integrity is a continuous matter of seeing where I'm out of integrity, then restoring integrity in those sub-areas. It's never-ending. It's ongoing. So as for how integrity as that "mountain with no top" is going? I'm learning to enjoy the climb.


* Six Definitions Of Word:

With permission, I've transcribed Werner's six definitions of word verbatim. Memorize them. They are:


Word‑1.  What You Said:

Whatever you have said you will do or will not do, and in the case of do, by when you said you would do it;


Word‑2.  What You Know:

Whatever you know to do or know not to do, and in the case of do, doing it as you know it is meant to be done and doing it on time, unless you have explicitly said to the contrary;


Word‑3.  What Is Expected:

Whatever you are expected to do or not do (even when not explicitly expressed), and in the case of do, doing it on time, unless you have explicitly said to the contrary;


Word‑4.  What You Say Is So:

Whenever you have given your word to others as to the existence of some thing or some state of the world, your word includes being willing to be held accountable that the others would find your evidence for what you have asserted also makes what you have asserted valid for themselves;


Word‑5.  What You Stand For:

What you stand for is fundamental to who you are for yourself and who you are for others. What you stand for is a declaration constituted by

1)  who you hold yourself to be for yourself as that for which you can be counted on from yourself (whether specifically articulated by you or not), and

2)  who you hold yourself out to be for others as that for which you can be counted on by others (or have allowed others to believe as that for which you can be counted on).


Word‑6.  Moral, Ethical And Legal Standards:

The social moral standards, the group ethical standards and the governmental legal standards of right and wrong, good and bad behavior, in the society, groups and state in which one enjoys the benefits of membership are also part of one's word (what one is expected to do) unless

a)  one has explicitly and publicly expressed an intention to not keep one or more of these standards, and

b)  one is willing to bear the costs of refusing to conform to these standards (the rules of the game one is in).

Postscript:
The presentation, delivery, and style of Six* Definitions Of Word are all my own work.
The ideas recreated in Six* Definitions Of Word were first originated, distinguished, and articulated by  .


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