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Honesty, Integrity, and Serenity

September 5, 2009
United States speed limit sign in miles per hour
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My Dad has always worked in pipeline construction – installing underground waterlines, sewers, streets, and roads. Some of my earliest memories are of me riding on some big piece of machinery while my Dad moved dirt around. At the age of 14 he hired me to be his grease monkey. Since he was building two subdivisions near our house in Tigard, I was able to ride my bike to the job sites after school, and lubricate the backhoes and other equipment. The Summer I graduated from high school, I went to work for him full-time running a Case 450 crawler/loader. A year later he made me the foreman of his crew.

As you can imagine, and I see it in my own (almost) two-year old Smiling Son, being around trucks and equipment is every boy’s dream come true. Not only did I worship the ground my father walked on, but I was determined to be as great as I saw him. Any man, but especially my Dad, who could wield that much power and move that much steel and dirt – well, that was just amazing!

I remember riding around in the pickup one cold, rainy day. We didn’t have a lot of work, so we took the opportunity to run errands. I didn’t really get paid for these days, but I learned valuable lessons into the world of contracting and entrepreneurship. Plus, I go to hang out with my Dad! This was in the days before cell-phones, but my Dad and I both had two-way radios in our trucks. People would call a central operator, and they would patch us through. It was primitive, especially by today’s standards, and it wasn’t private, but it was an invaluable too for a contractor on the road.

Well this one day as we were driving south on Highway 217 in Tigard, my Mom called to see when we’d be home for dinner. It was 5:30 in the evening and 217 was at a standstill. We still had three more stops to make, and even on a good day, with no traffic, it would take 30+ minutes to get to our home in Tualatin. But my Dad, not wanting to face controversy, told my Mom we’d be home in 15-20 minutes. It was so far from the truth; I’ve never forgotten that moment. We arrived home two hours later.

I’ve tried hard through the years to reconcile my Dad’s white lies with my image of his super-human deification. At times, like I said above, he was just trying to avoid conflict – even though there was wrath to pay when we arrived home an hour and 45 minutes later than he said. Other times, it was to avoid the uncomfortable – “If that’s Floyd (his alcoholic boss at the time),” my Dad would call out. “Tell him I’m not here.” I understood that he didn’t want to upset my Mom. I understood that he didn’t want to spend an hour on the phone appeasing his very drunk boss. But over time, I began to see the lies as more insidious.

Cat Excavator

Image by billjacobus1 via Flickr

He’d stretch a little truth here, cover a little error over there, and color the facts a bit to ensure that things would work out in his favor. But somehow, it remains a habit, and to this day, I’m not always sure he’s telling me what I want to hear, what he wants me to hear, or the truth. It’s quite sad really.

Well, as someone who studied my Dad closely, and who did everything I could to walk in his shoes, I realize that I’ve picked up more than my share of his habits. I can only laugh at myself when I scold my children with the same tone and words that my Dad used 45 years ago. However, the integrity issue was one that I had to nip in the bud, and keep a constant check on. (please don’t get me wrong, I still adore my Dad, but today I’m just talking about something that has influenced me deeply.)

A little mis-truth here, a little innocent lie there, and a little flavoring of the facts around about – who’s going to know? What will it hurt? It’s the social lubricant of age. I mean, really, if your wife asks you to give an honest assessment of the new recipe she worked on all afternoon, everyone knows what the answer is before she even asks: “It’s delicious!”

During my first, second, third, and 38th time through the Twelve Steps, I always run into this issue. Step four is take a “searching and fearless moral inventory.” This is crucial to maintaining one’s sobriety; it is crucial for maintaining serenity; and it is crucial for being a holistically healthy person. I’ve found that I don’t have to be concerned with my sobriety, as long as I remain in serenity. And I don’t have to worry about finding serenity, as long as I continue to work the steps.

This integrity issue is something I dealt with when I first sought sobriety, and it is one that I keep in check through a daily, weekly, monthly, and constant “searching and fearless moral inventory.” It’s not really a choice. I have to do it, or I will die. Maybe not physically, but emotionally, spiritually, socially, intellectually – et cetera.

I am so committed to maintaining personal, and public integrity, that I will resist all efforts to get me to compromise. For at least the last 25 years, I have chosen to drive the speed limit. This is a moral issue for me. It is a serenity issue for me. I seek to be a truth-teller in all my words and actions. But most of all, I seek to be honest with myself. This is where real serenity comes from – being honest with myself.

I am the highway
Image by grazie, davvero saglie e scenne via Flickr

In order for me to trust myself, I can’t lie to myself. When I trust myself, I avoid recoiling in fear or overreacting with arrogance. This is where patience and humility begin to envelop me. This is where peace settles on my soul and in a Classic Catch-22 scenario, I find I have no reason to lie, I have no reason to break the speed limit, and I have no reason to abuse drugs or alcohol. And it just gets better from there.

I do this for me – but not just for me. This makes me a better husband and a better dad. If I have any hope of being a good father, it has to start with being a good husband. If I have any hope of making an impact in this world, it has to start with my family. But, if I have no integrity, and I am not trusted, than I can’t make an solid impact on anyone’s life. Through all of my faults, through all of my issues, to me, this one is central – serenity has to come through personal integrity.

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6 Comments
  1. Terre permalink
    September 5, 2009 7:51 am

    Gary, good words. Thanks. Gut level, rigorous honesty is where integrity has begun for me – one decision, one moment, ‘one day at a time.’ ( “Progress not perfection”, is the best that I can claim.)

    But, “25 years” of choosing to not speed… doesn’t mean you didn’t speed in those 25 years. Come on, be honest!
    ;^ )

    (This blog brought to mind a quote from AA p.58)
    “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There ar those too who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.”

    • September 5, 2009 11:19 am

      Great quote Terre! And in this context, I read it with more grace than I have before. I’ve focused on this part:

      Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program…

      Especially the “will not” – but often forget to be graceful to those who cannot. Thanks for the reminder!

      Actually, what I’m trying to say about speeding is that I don’t choose to speed. In fact, I choose to obey the speed limit. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss it sometimes, either through ignorance, distraction, or unexpected geography. However, I do not see how much I can get away with (e.g. 57 in a 55 zone, 75 in a 70, etc.) – I’ve just found it easier to relax and obey the rules.

      I’ve also done the math. In 1986 I was paying $200/month for insurance. My last ticket, for doing 85 in a 50 mph zone (and fortunately they never caught on that I was trying to elude them too), was expensive. I figure I have saved several thousand dollars over the past two decades.

      The other math equation is this one: If I drive the posted speed limit on Highway 30, between Rainier and Scappoose (and it’s a moving target: 25, 35, 50, 55, 50, 55, 50, 45, 40, 35, 45, 50, 55), it takes me about 40 minutes. If I push the limit 10%, or about 5 mph over, I might save about five minutes. For five minutes I risk higher insurance rates, not to mention the cost of a ticket, and not least, an increased risk of having an accident on one of the deadliest highways in Oregon. What would be the point?

      So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is easier to live a life of serenity (good time management, spiritual health, integrity, etc), than it is to adjust for a life out of balance (Koyaanisqatsi). If I’m always running late, have to tell little white lies to squeak by, and I’m lying to myself about my own state of being, there isn’t going to be much serenity.

      I’m always seeking to keep a clean slate. And I make amends as soon as I realize I made a mistake. Which, unfortunately, is more often than I’d care to mention.

      Thanks for the thought provoking feedback Terre!

  2. September 5, 2009 11:54 am

    “Rigorous Honesty” A term I have never heard before…I will take and mull this one over. Thanks as always from giving me something to ponder…Kim

    • September 5, 2009 1:10 pm

      As opposed to passive honesty – or lazy honesty?

      • September 5, 2009 6:04 pm

        Yes I suppose… I just guess I have usually considered honesty by itself without those specific adjectives. I’ve considered, completely and blatantly honest, but never rigorous, passive or lazy.

        I don’t believe one can be passively honest, it is either a choice you’ve made or it isn’t. It’s not like being honest comes naturally…just raise a small child and you learn this. So I don’t think you can be lazily honest…

        Just some thoughts for the evening. Kim

      • September 5, 2009 10:58 pm

        Interesting thoughts Kim.

        Yeah, you may be correct. However, it takes some pretty rigorous motivation to do a “fearless & searching” moral inventory. I know a lot of people who don’t lie, cheat, or steal; they attend church and serve in leadership roles; and they excel in their careers, their relationships, and their lives generally – but they have not taken the time, or energy, to do a “fearless & searching” moral inventory.

        It may not be laziness, it may be fear. It may be ignorance. I’m not sure. But I know that after a decade of failures, I was driven to be rigorous in my self assessment – I had no other choice. But I see that as an advantage now.

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