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

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Squishy Integrity

Bennett Lane, Calistoga, California, USA

August 23, 2009

This essay, Squishy Integrity, is the second in a group of sixteen on Integrity:

Being in integrity is a hard, clear, razor thin line. I'm either in  integrity or I'm not. There's no gr3y  area when it comes to being in integrity. Being in integrity is black and white. Or rather, spoken with rigor, being in integrity is black or  white.

Or is it?

Keeping the law is a matter of integrity. And when it's said "Ignorance of the law is no excuse", it raises the stakes, it ups the ante  so that to be in integrity, you have to keep all laws including the ones you're unaware of. I've always paid taxes on time and accurately. Paying taxes is the law. As a computer trainer for many of the Fortune 1000  companies I've had the opportunity to present seminars for and to train the software technicians of the United States Department of the Treasury aka the Internal Revenue Service, the IRS. I've been exposed to some of the lesser known laws which govern tax returns. For example, remember the last time you found, with delight, a ten dollar bill on the sidewalk? You picked it up and spent it - a nice windfall. If you didn't declare it as taxable income, you violated the law. Cash you find, even a dime on the sidewalk, is taxable income. If you don't declare it on your tax return you're out of integrity in addition to violating the law whether you're aware of this law or not.

You're driving along the open road. You've passed the signs telling you the speed limit is sixty miles an hour. Yet you're sailing along close to seventy clicks. You see the road ahead and (in your rear view mirror) the road behind. There are no highway patrol cruisers in sight. Are you out of integrity? Are you breaking the law if you don't get caught?  It's asked "If a tree falls in the forest, and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?". Similarly, if you exceed the speed limit and there's no highway patrol officer to cite you, are you breaking the law  ie are you out of integrity?

If you violate an edict you've committed to uphold from your religious  institution, you're out of integrity. The statistics tell the galling story of how many Americans are out of integrity with the promise made at marriage "to have and to hold from this day forward for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish 'till death do us part". The number of people who've violated this edict, who've broken this promise and are therefore out of integrity is simply staggering.

All these laws and promises were designed to be upheld ie not to be trivialized. And all the integrity(s) implicit in upholding these laws and in keeping these promises aren't to be taken lightly. And yet the evidence is in that we do take integrity lightly, that while we may aver  we stay in integrity, if the truth be told our standards for what constitutes violations of integrity and what doesn't are somewhat squishy.

I'm not about to propose a solution  to this state of affairs (at least not yet). I don't have the answers. I notice in some situations, I am (that is we are)  bound by certain rules of society which don't take into account, which aren't founded on who we really are. As such, this makes it hard to abide by standards of society's integrity especially when being in integrity with society requires not being who we really are - for example, when a pacifist is drafted to fight with the armed forces. There seems to be, on occasion, one set of rules which binds who we really are, and a different set of rules, sometimes seemingly at odds, which binds society's interests. When you stand on the razor's edge of an integrity moment on the one side of which is society's interests and on the other side of which is who you really are, which do you choose? Or rather, how  do you choose? Remember, society's rules don't necessarily conflict with  who you really are. Rather, simply in the way society's rules have been constructed and by whom, they may not always take into account  who you really are.

If you choose who you really are over society's decree, have you violated your integrity if integrity is defined as upholding the decrees of society? I'm fascinated by the question. Is integrity squishy?  Or is it, indeed, a one size fits all?

The deeper I get into this inquiry, the clearer a distinction becomes. It's this:

The integrity associated with society's decrees may indeed be squishy. If I knowingly drive at seventy miles an hour in a sixty mile an hour zone, I've violated the law and am out of integrity. If I knowingly drive at seventy miles an hour in a sixty mile an hour zone with a pregnant woman in labor having contractions in the passenger seat on the way to the nearest hospital, do we even include the notions of breaking the law  and violating integrity  in this conversation? And as for the situations in which a societal decree is violated when I'm unaware there's a decree in place which I'm violating  (remember, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse"), have I broken the law until I'm held to account for breaking the law?  Am I out of integrity as long as I'm unaware I'm out of integrity?

I assert society's integrity, as defined by the collection of societal decrees, is the domain of squishy integrity. It's not a hard, clear, razor thin line. I may be  in integrity or not. Mostly I'm in integrity with society. Yet even if I'm out of integrity with society, I may not be aware of it. There's only  shades of gr3y here, never just black, never just white.

In contradistinction, I do know, I always know  when I'm not ... being ... my ... Self. I always know  when I'm out of integrity by not being who I really am. This  is the integrity with a hard, clear, razor thin line. This  is the integrity which I'm either in  or I'm not. This  is the integrity which has no gr3y  area. This  is the integrity which has only black  or white. This  is the integrity which isn't squishy.

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