Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Toward an Integrous Life

I have been pondering and, I'll admit, wrestling with the concept of Integrity...most of my adult life. Recently, my children's obtaining and slipping out of the saddle of this character trait (along with altruism, sensitivity, and artistic expression) I so passionately tried to bequeath them throughout their childhood. I admit I have been reluctant to share any musings with any of them, lest they take an offense and assume I am meddling in character development now that they are no longer children.
While they were sharing with me their agony over the demise of a marriage, defending a drug disabled friend as no such thing, or fretting over taking on the task of getting funding for a degree and making a place for themselves in the world to use their gifts they have been endowed with, I realized that they are terrified that they have become an adulterer-monster, or a person who will wake up at thirty with no life and nothing to show for the first ten years of their adulthood.
How does one live to their potential? How does one live within his/her own skin, peacefully? I think this is the issue that they are grapelling with surrounded as they are with their peers who regularly lose jobs, relationships, opportunities. Oddly enough, it is integrity or the slipping away from it's guiding hand which is at the root of their 'issues'.
An astute law professor, Stephen Carter wrote a book simply called Integrity years ago, which I stumbled upon, bought and read, reread and tried to absorb. In recent months with all of these wretched truths being divulged by my adult children, I am going back to it to find an answer. Can I share it with them? I tried with one, no response except to move in with a woman and not tell me about her or his address until I flew to visit him and met her myself. I discovered that he wasn't being defiant. He was being embarrassed to share with me his unintegrous situation. At least he got my message, even if he cannot live it yet.
Integrity is three sided. It is not simply honesty. It requires work. Mental work. First one chooses to take on the challenge of discerning right and wrong. Taking the time to ponder and consider what the right is and why; what the wrong is, and why. It is hard mental work. It ultimately leads one to examine the culture one is in and their choices about right and wrong, and then its influence on us. Do we allow it to influence us? Or do we take it one issue at a time and consider it independantly. All of this pondering actually leads one to be able to think independently and to be able to discern irony, duplicity, and truth more clearly than others do.
The second side is far beyond knowing what is right and wrong. It is a decision. What do I believe? Is this wrong or not? What do I do about it, personally? Do I do it and rationalize it or do I never do it and hold myself proud that I can say, "I've never done that thing." Once at my work some graffiti was found on the inside of a bathroom stall. Every associate was lined up and then asked by our enraged manager-eye to eye and piercing-'Did you write that?' I could look her in the eye and say, 'No, M'am, I have never in my life written any graffiti'. It felt great to say that. I felt my integrity at that moment.
Number three is a simple one. It is 'to be a person of integrity, one must be willing to say that he or she is acting consistently with what he or she has decided is right'. We give oaths, take pledges, declare testimonies and these were instituted in a time when integrity was known, taught, practiced and valued. Times, as we know have changed. The TV is replete with shows, magazines with articles with people bragging how they cheated the court system, took secret revenge on a coworker or spouse, got away with whatever (including murder).
I regret that I didn't take more seriously teaching my children to ponder and evaluate the right and wrong, decide, act on it, and then have the courage to declare openly their commitment to what they had previously decided was right and wrong. My adulterous child, when his sister confronted him and he fully realized his 'indescretion' was now out in the open and known and his life as a married man was over, crashed emotionally. A rent in his soul was made. I saw him soon after. He cried, he confessed, he slept on the floor of his childhood bedroom. He looked up at the ceiling of this room where the glow-in-the-dark stars and comets still shine dimly just where he and his brother put them Christmas night years ago. Now, he is waiting to file, a year has passed and he still hasn't divorced. He is living separately and neither of them seem to know how to move on and live honestly. Has the world the younger generation occupy skewed so very much different from the one I was presented with when I was 20 and ready to start my adult life?
I think in some ways a dark ages for moral integrity has descended on our culture. How did that happen?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Becoming Our Best Selves

Marriage is work. It is not always a partnership which is equal. At any given juncture, phase, or even minute of the day, one spouse may actually be several pages ahead of the other. A marriage becomes a haven if a few disciplines or habits are worked on consistently until they flow from our body language, our choice of words, timing so that we change and change each other, for the better.
There is a lovely Jewish proverb which says,"We shall light a candle of understanding in our hearts which shall not be put out". This can be applied to marriage as a guide to communicating when one is on a different page or level than the other. If one spouse has leapt ahead a few steps on an issue and the other should be brought along to the same understanding, it requires that a 'light' be shown on the issue in a nonthreatening way: "Dear, I read an article about giving children a chance to experience several types of activities after school such as sports, ballet, scouts. You know, to give them exposure to other things while they are still children. I think we should talk about the options we could give the kids. What do you think?" When the subject is not too personal, just a hypothetical, then the 'light' can shine on the issue and 'understanding' as well as respect for views and equal input into a plan becomes possible.
A great spouse is really like a great pet dog as George Eliot said," ....are such agreeable friends. They ask no questions, they pass no criticism". There are times, and you get to know them, when it is better to just be an agreeable friend because you really listened. You really just sympathized. You really didn't try to solve the problem for your spouse. He felt you understood, nonjudgementally. If there has been a healthy amount of this 'no questions/no criticism', then trust is built for those times when the foot must come down about something important.
The essence of the nurturing process is this: "A good (spouse) friend accepts us as we are yet helps us to be who we should"(anonymous) If each believes that they are entirely acceptable just as they are to the other, there is a powerful bond that is trust/love steel. If there is trust and love, the other's input is valuable, sought for, accepted. If valuable guidance is given, then it is received in their'heart' as a 'light' of awareness and it will 'not be put out' but will be cherished and not rejected.
Of course, we are talking about living a gracious and civilized way-in our marriage. This requires a highly disciplined restraint, carefully guarding impulsive comments and this includes sarcasm, defensiveness and insensitivity. If one does it, the other absorbs it instead of responding in kind. This means nurturing marriage is a paradigm shift from the sitcom or soap opera marriage model. It means work...hard...to create a relationship where trust and friendship as well as all of the childrearing, emptynest adjustments, and elder care required of life on earth. If this other level of being married can be achieved in an effortless interchange of selfless, sensitive acts it will result in our rise to a level of being 'what we should' or becoming our best selves over time and it will be evidenced in every relationship we have both in and outside of the marriage.