I have incredible respect for “old-school” honor and integrity. I fear that it is either American decadence or simply a low point we are experiencing since 2000 that accounts for why people feel that their word doesn’t mean much, that they needn’t put in the effort required to be a person of high character and live a life that is totally in integrity. This is my lamentation lately! I am really let down today, emotionally. Am I being too hard on everyone I have ever met, or are honor and integrity too much to expect from people?
I will admit right up front that I am a man whose personal growth and psycho-emotional development is a work in progress. That is another way of saying that I grew up in a home that became increasingly dysfunctional as my childhood years waned. As a teenager, I was forced to deal with the storm and stress of adolescence without a functional father or a present mother. There was a lot of enmity and disappointment and vengefulness between my parents as I was trying to grow into a man. Happily, I didn’t get too far off-track, but I do look back on a few aspects of those years and wish they were different. Whether it is wise to tug on the strings that seem out of place or incorrect in the tapestry of one’s life is another matter. Though it has been beautifully discussed in this Star Trek episode.
Having said that life is seen through these eyes: the ones that have not only glaucoma but which have some psychological, spiritual, and social issues, I have a goddam beef!
I seem to be the person I know who takes old-school honor and integrity the most seriously of anyone around me. Please overlook the self-aggrandizement you might be sensing in that statement. I really do feel that no one gets this as well as I do. Even giving some leeway for the fact that it is human beings I’m referring to – and by definition, we are terribly imperfect animals – almost absurdly so it seems. That is to say, why the hell does everyone in my life, past or present, “call it in”, fail to live up to my standards, and let me down? Is it just my perfectionism, or are people basically flakes? I find myself so angry right now and this is a coping mechanism – writing. Thank you for not closing your browser as you read these words!
“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”
I have to assume that it is a combination of my perfectionism, my pretty developed sense of my values, and frankly, the fact that I have been thinking about and studying this classic idea of honor and integrity for years. That and I suppose what America has wrought.
I don’t know whether Donald Trump is a symptom or a critical step in America’s de-evolution. I know he is one immoral, crass, narcissistic, reprobate motherfucker. I hate to use those words in a blog, and about the President of the fucking United States! But it is what it is. Let me not mince words. It is absolutely not patriotic to support Donald Trump as the Chief Executive and the Commander in Chief. As of this writing, we are on the brink of war with Iran, the economy is under threat from Trump’s elective tariffs, children have died in U.S. custody, and major damage has been done to the fabric of our society. Perhaps, perhaps he is just the tip of the iceberg, and America’s capitalism, pseudo-religiosity, rugged individualism, and wantonly immoral behavior in geopolitical matters throughout our long history is really what allowed him to ascend to the highest office in the land and to be, apparently, absolutely impervious to law and custom and our better angels. We also have allowed a gross system of buying influence to infect the political system, and the country was founded on greed and slavery and religious fundamentalism and intolerance. We are truly reaping what we have sown, and it fucking pisses me off!
In a word, the man is an abomination, and though the political system might have allowed him to exploit its weaknesses, it is an appalling lack of flexibility and capacity for progressive change that allows him to sit upon the Iron Throne, ruining our country on a daily basis. The Founding Fathers and many good people throughout the centuries would be rolling in their goddam graves to witness the chicanery, the skullduggery, the cozying up to dictators, the flouting of election security, and the absolutely Orwellian level of obfuscation and twisting of truth that we are subjected to every day for the last two years. It’s got to make millions of good patriots in this country just sick to their stomachs. He has absolutely no regard for old-school honor and integrity.
“The most exhausting thing in the world is being insincere.”
It is a symptom of a predator, a narcissist, a con man, to use the highest office in the land for his own emotional needs. It’s worse than Bill Cosby, Bernie Madoff, and priests that molest their congregants. It’s deserving of the highest levels of condemnation. The Republicans in and out of Congress give the man a pass because they are absolute cowards, soulless bastards, and Machiavellian in the extreme. But I won’t go on that tangent.
I think what is happening to me today is that I was let down in a very disconcerting way by a long-term acquaintance/friend who basically dishonored himself and acted with a gross level of lack of diligence. I expected more from him, and I feel like I am dying a death by a thousand cuts. My mother, my father, my sister, Shannon, Dustin, Jared, and Richard all have deeply disappointed me. A crushing blow was added by David in this last year, a catastrophe for me mentally.
All these folks know better. David, in particular, is well-acquainted with the idea of honor and integrity. That he of all people would abandon me is extremely hurtful. I don’t know if I can ever forgive him. Yes, he came from an extremely dysfunctional home, but I fear his main issue is that he just hasn’t paid enough attention to what I am calling old-school honor and integrity. He just doesn’t care enough about his conduct, his reputation. If honor is what one does when no one else is looking, he is following the path of his father and trying to get his own psycho-emotional-spiritual needs met at the expense of others.
“Ethics is about decision-making.”
I sometimes feel very alone in this world. I have made a thing out of my independence and my existential awareness. It has to some degree protected me, but it can be very lonely. The pattern is the same: I join a group or interact with others, and I feel let down. I can hardly think of another social/familial situation which does not qualify. It’s really sad and sometimes it makes me cry.
Do I hold others up to a higher level of honor and integrity than I hold myself to? That is an interesing and fair question. I certainly hope not. I am afraid that might be true. But don’t be snagged by that fact, dear reader, since you can still take from this blog what meat there is on the bone even if I am a hypocrite. I am speaking of general truths, even if I am somewhat mistaken in my assessment of the particulars.
I know my standards are high. I feel like the artist who knows what is real, what is right, what is true, and anything less than perfection will just not do.
“Integrity is what we do, what we say, and what we say we do.”
True to form, if I want to know about a real, solid type of honor and integrity, my solace comes from history. My theory is basically that a particular person is fallible, but the values they aspire to are unassailable. That is, my wife or my best friend or my mom might fail to do what they say and say what they do, but integrity is upon high, untarnished, robust. Thus, I look to examples of behavior from great persons from the past. It is some consolation. Though reading or learning about Nietzsche, Bruno, Eleanor Roosevelt, Van Gogh, Boethius, Anne Frank, Gandhi, DuBois, or Bonhoeffer is helpful in a way, it also reflects to me how isolated I am, how socially unsuccessful, how pained. These folks are long-dead.
There are many philosophers, writers, activists, poets, heroes and heroines, and theologians who, throughout the years, have written and demonstrated laudable values such as honor and integrity, character, virtue, and morality. We can benefit by knowing what they thought, what they wrote, and what they did. Socrates was probably one of the first, and many think of Jesus as men of the highest virtue and integrity. The wisdom tradition is absolutely inseparable from the idea that one should above all be honest, good, and true. Reliable, dependable, and accountable are primary characteristics of the most successful modern individuals, too.
I don’t want to cause you to laugh, considering me a pathetic martyr who is more psychologically dysfunctional than a great spirit. However, I sometimes wonder, if the last person I knew and loved who was 99% in his honor and integrity and self-discipline died twelve years ago, I have to ask if I will suffer and write and someday be but a long-dead iconoclast.
“If there is one word that describes the meaning of character, it is the word honor. Without honor, civilization would not long exist. Without honor, there could be no dependable contracts, no lasting marriages, no trust, or happiness.”
Though somewhat absurd, I suppose that possibility would put me in the category of Orwell, Socrates, Margaret Mead, Paul Wellstone, Edward R. Murrow, the character of Jean-Luc Picard, Rachel Carson, Cesar Chavez, and Erin Brockovich, and John A. Marshall. So I will have that to look forward to, as ambivalent as I feel about that.
I suppose granting myself a bit of self-aggrandizement (that I deserve inclusion in a group of such important individuals) isn’t the worst thing in the world. Others who have felt unmoored and different and depressed – what sociologist Emile Durkheim termed anomie – have become addicted to drugs, cheated on spouses, engaged in various compulsions, committed suicide, and, grossly as of late, have committed mass shootings. I suppose bellyaching, crying, spending $500 a month on therapy and medication, and being irritable with my spouse are not the worst adaptations in the world. And hey, my writing is helpful, is free, and ideally is helpful to you, the reader. At a minimum, if you are reading this blog with one eyebrow raised critically, you could see what my damned problem is and not duplicate my dysfunctional coping mechanisms and be more successful dealing with childhood issues.
If this ending leaves you feeling dispirited, I apologize. It’s my truth; at least as I sit here and write to you it is. Ω
I will now offer a few quotes about honor and integrity that might inspire you to not feel as bad as I do at this moment:
Legal obligations have escape clauses; moral obligations do not.
I’m really glad that our young people missed the Depression, and missed the great big war. But I do regret that they missed the leaders that I knew. Leaders who told us when things were tough, and that we would have to sacrifice, and these difficulties might last awhile.
Like a beautiful flower, full of color but without scent, are the fair but fruitless words of him who does not act accordingly.
We have heard enough about being practical and efficient and prudent. We heard it preached through several decades that these things would save the world. I think that, with the salty taste of blood and sweat on our lips, we are learning that we had best talk once again about what is right.
While the message of excess materialism is toxic for all our children, it is especially cruel for the one out of six American children living in poverty. I often wonder how sporting goods executives sleep at night after marketing basketball shoes to low-income children that cost a minimum-wage-earning parent nearly a week’s salary to pay for.
That extreme capitalism fosters moral corrosion is not a new message. Teddy Roosevelt said as much a century ago.
There is just one way to bring up a child in the way he should go, and that is to travel that way yourself.
It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s truer that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power. When they do act, they think of it as service, which has limits. The tyrant, though, seeks mastery, for which they are insatiable, implacable.
Where there is no shame, there is no honor.
You don’t have to think about doing the right thing. If you’re for the right thing, then you do it without thinking.
If life is a battle, then my inner scars are medals for valor, for swiftness, for courage, for passion.
I am not leaving. You do not have the power to release me, least of all to release me to gratify yourselves. I shall not leave this place until I hear that everybody else has been released, and that all the laws of the tyranny have been stricken from the books.
Honor and integrity are the very basis of a wise person’s self-respect and his or her way of being in the world. The great religions herald honesty; the warrior ethos involves reliability; the best parents teach their kids that their word means something and that doing one’s duty is a high virtue. ~ Jason Merchey
Integrity is the ability to discern what is right from what is wrong, acting on what you discern, even at personal cost, and saying openly that you’re acting on your understanding of right from wrong. A person of integrity is true to his or her own principles and beliefs. He or she doesn’t say one thing and do another.
No amount of ability is of the slightest avail without honor.
Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.
Morality regulates the acts of man as an individual; honor, his acts as a public man.
Here is a blog about character and virtue that I wrote when I was feeling particularly betrayed by David, my friend of 30 years.