An important lesson in the #Impact Program: Authenticity and Mind

Rationalization is lying. We all do it.

[This is this week’s actual curriculum in the yearlong #Impact Program. It’s a key lesson and focuses on recognizing and dealing with our rationalize. Thought I’d share it with you.]

Before our deployment to the Arabian / Persian Gulf (pick your favorite — it’s been disputed by empires for millennia) in Spring of 2001, I and a Teammate were talking one day over our trip preparations. I was known in the platoon as a guy who didn’t drink any alcohol or chase any skirts and, while the former was a rarity, the latter was a case-by-case choice by each guy in the context of his own life and home situation. I never made a big deal about these issues in my own life, because it’s been that way since men started going off to war about one zillion years ago, or going off to sell vacuum cleaners about one hundred years ago … each man makes his choices about whether he’ll still be married while he’s on the road. Each man respects each other man’s decision, and we leave each to his own.

 

This particular Teammate, however — we’ll call him John — apparently took issue with my particular set of choices and challenged me in private talk over our cruise boxes filled with dive, reconnaissance and parachuting gear.

“It’s time for you to act like a SEAL,” says John. (Remember, the following is only his opinion and has no bearing on who or how many among our Brothers liked to practice Travel Bachelorhood, and who or how many didn’t.) “We’re going to be gone for seven months and when we get out there, you need to get drunk, and get laid. Lighten up and stop being such a pussy. Drink with the guys, get as much ass as you can, and then when we get back you can turn your precious integrity back on.”

 

Now, I had never mentioned the word “integrity” to John, just as I had never mentioned anything about what I would or wouldn’t do with booze or women … my behavior had apparently gotten stuck in his craw based simply on his observation of me on previous trips. I suspect, and we’ll elaborate on this a little, that he had a guilty conscience about his own choices and was therefore attentive to my own, because they highlighted for him a way that he knew he could follow, but had not elected to. It doesn’t matter — I’m not going to take responsibility for anyone else’s happiness, unhappiness, or guilty conscience for the way they feel when they look at me.
Integrity, which is very important but not universally the same to every human in every culture, is based on the same root word as “integer.” Integer means

“…a whole number; a number that is not a fraction.”

or

“…a thing complete in itself.”

 

I like to look at the example by Dr. Henry Cloud in his book, “Integrity,” in which he points out that the integer 1 is unchanging and constant. In other words, the integer 1, in its integrity, is the same number 1 whether it’s found at a SEAL Team in Hawai’i, in Paris with romantic street music playing under the moonlight, or in some other distant land that has sailors rolling in and out of a port town 365 days a year. I prefer to live my life like that integer 1: whether in choices of personal lifestyle, or use of alcohol, or a little thing I like to call “cash register honesty,” who I am anywhere is who I ought to be everywhere.

 

You can easily measure your own integrity, your sameness in any situation, by what you do when you think nobody is watching or that nobody will find out. Do you accept too much change back from the overworked and underqualified kid at the cash register, or do you point out that he gave you five dollars too much back?

 

I’ve done both, in my life. In fact, because my first ten years of adulthood were much, much more sketchy than the 25 since, I have done almost every “bad” thing you can think of. Thanks to my own peculiar loss of rational thought when I drink (I like to think of it as an allergy that affects me in my sanity), I did awful things to awfully nice people for a long time. I was a pretty horrible person, and this is not my typical self-deprecating style of making stupid jokes. You wouldn’t want to see me drunk.

So when I talk about issues of “Authenticity and Mind,” I am coming from a very solid foundation of understanding both options: trying hard to live a “same everywhere” way of integrity, and the alternative of doing whatever I want, whenever I want, to whomever I want, to get what I want. The price of that second path, in legal and financial and self-respect, is high.

 

Take another look at your worksheets and journaling for this Focus lesson. Examine your own choices through the lens of Authenticity and Mind, and be as honest as you can. Many people who self-satisfiedly pat themselves on the back for handing back those five bucks with “cash register honesty” will nevertheless be very creative (lie) with their deductions at tax time, or will give false reasons (lie) for not accepting an invitation or for being late, or will rationalize their treatment of loved ones with abuse, neglect, or deception.

 

Rationalization is the way we use our Mind to justify to ourselves (usually not to everyone else, who can easily smell our bullshit) behaviors that the little Jiminy Cricket in our ear says is not a good idea. The next big social movement should be “We Are All Pinocchio” because we all do at some point make big or small, many or few, decisions that we know are not in line with what is “right.”

And this brings me to the final point: “right” and “wrong” are not universally, absolutely identical across our species. The more judgmental among us will tend to argue the opposite, because some people would rather be Right than Happy. Maybe that’s you, reading this right now. It’s not me, I can assure you. I’ve spent several decades trying to work myself into a place where drama and painful consequences are at a minimum in my life. Some would try to label that as “wisdom.” I see it as “self-defense.” Drama sucks.

 

But back to right and wrong: In Moscow I was fined $20 with my German friend, Alex, who had thrown a cigarette butt on the ground near a trash can on Red Square. The cop who pinched him declared that if we didn’t want to go to jail (I’m not sure how I was included in that we, but the officer was trying to sweeten his take for a good fine from “rich Europeans”), we could pay a fine to him and he would make sure it got to the proper authorities.

 

He was lying. That $20 would go straight in his pocket, and he would be able to buy a lot more beet soup for the family.

 

But the cop told us 20 bucks, and Alex said No Way — That Can’t Possibly Be 20 Bucks. I’ll Give You 10. The cop said okay, and told him not to do it again. Money was exchanged, and we went on our way until the next time we were stopped and fined by another cop, this time on our way to Saint Petersburg.

Does this outrage you? If so, it’s understandable. Crooked cops, right? Abusing the populace and enriching themselves. But think about this: that same officer in Red Square was going to earn $30 for his salary for the entire month while we were there. It is a perfect example of our favorite #Impact statement, “#IIWII” … It Is What It Is … that cops have to make a living in Russia (and in many other countries) by lifting a few bucks from everyone for petty infractions, is the economy. That is how he and others feed their families. The existing system he lives in does not provide enough, any more than our wait staff in American restaurants can feed themselves without tips, on wages alone. It is what it is.

 

So consider all of this in context, understanding that what looks right or wrong to us may not be so for someone else. And it’s much better to look at yourself, which is where we should all focus the bulk of our “corrective” energy in the world. Ask yourself whether you are doing what is right or wrong, as measured by that little cricket chirping in your ear. If you are doing wrong, and you don’t want to live with fear of being caught or of hurting people or being embarrassed, change.

 

If you take care of keeping you on track, you’ll do a lot more good for the rest of us through your example and the quality of the person you’ll become.

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