Two issues ago (link) I wrote about relationships, and proposed the following:
• I can only commit to an action - to something I will do.
• I commit to being in relationship with you. Here is what I commit to:
• I will be open, honest and vulnerable in my daily communication with you.
• I will tell you, today, who I am and what I am thinking.
• I will tell you, today, everything I have done, and what it meant to me.
• I will listen to you with curiosity and interest, today.
• I will accept that you are who you are today, and will integrate who you are today with my picture of you from "yesterday."
• I will make myself fully available and present to and with you, today, and engage in clear and concise communication with you for not less than 30 minutes, today.
• I will own all of my thoughts, feelings, emotions and interpretations, working to take full responsibility for each and every one of them. If I slip and go into blaming, I will stop myself, apologise, and return to self-responsibility.
• I will actively encourage you to listen to me and to actively hold me to the performance of what I have committed to.
• I will commit to all of these things, without any expectation of anything from you, as all I can ever commit to is to what I can and will do.
Two issues ago, I wrote an article on commitment, with the intent of expanding it and the subsequent articles into a book on relationships, communication and sex. (I mentioned the topic of the book to a client a week later, and she said she'd buy the first copy as she had trouble with all three…)
I suspect she is not alone.
I was working with another client yesterday, and we were talking about another of my favourite words –integrity.
As usual, I'll provide a definition:
1. possession of firm principles: the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standards
2. completeness: the state of being complete
3. wholeness: the state of being sound
[15th century. Via French
< Latin integritas < integer "whole"]
Now, of course, reading the first definition is an exercise in futility, as we immediately ask, what are high moral principles? Clearly, the answer depends upon whom you ask. So, when I'm talking about integrity, I provide an example.
"Integrity, for me, is demonstrated in how I act.
For example, my word is my bond.
Integrity in this case is doing what I say I will do."
Now, notice I did not say that my integrity is dependent upon the behaviour of others. My integrity is a characteristic of me and my willingness to be whole, complete, and clear.
So, how does this fit in with the list I proposed a few weeks ago? I hope it's obvious. Here's the first statement:
I can only commit to an action - to something I will do.
People are notorious for trying to escape responsibility for their actions and their lives. Our culture teaches us to blame others when things go wrong. (And we can always blame God if no one else is around.) Most people are unwilling to make anything other than conditional commitments. "I'll do this if you will do that." And you get to go first, of course.
This issue plays out around the concept of boundaries. People are actually dumb enough to say, "You're violating my boundaries!!" In reality, the only boundary anyone can violate is a physical one—by hitting you or hurting you physically.
Where this goes off the rails is when I think that I "should" demand what another person is permitted to do in relation to me. It's as if I think that my boundary is about another's behaviour. This is faulty logic.
It's a variation on an old theme – "If you love me, you'll behave the way I want you to, so that I don't have any conflicts or work to do."
When statements are made this way, they demonstrate nothing more than a complete lack of integrity.
You are never going to meet one person who will do everything you want them to, act exactly the way you want them to, or treat you exactly as you expect to be treated. On the other hand, what you can have, all the time, is a life where the way you act matches what you say you will do.
You'll notice that all of the principles at the top of this article are statements of what "I" will do.
My level of integrity is solely determined by how and whether I live up to what I have committed to.
This is not the same as being judged for not living up to something someone else wants me to do. I am not obligated to do something just because someone wants me to. I am obligated if I agree. It's just that simple.
So, I hear you asking, what do I do when someone promises me something and then fails to deliver? This is a good question. I do what I said I would do if there was an "agreement failure." My integrity demands it.
Many people make empty threats. I hear this a lot working with couples. Let's propose a statement that has integrity: "I will always tell you the truth about me. This is so important to me that if you lie to me, I will leave."
This is diametrically the opposite of, "If you love me, you will not lie to me," or "I'll stop lying when you stop lying," or "Don't you know you shouldn't lie."
Some people would argue that the first, italicized statement, above, is a threat. It is not. It is a statement of:
- what I will do regarding telling the truth, and
- what I will do if you lie to me.
In a sense, it's not about "you" at all. You can do whatever you want to (regarding, in this case, lying) and I am clear with you what I will do. What is not on the table is that lying has no consequences.
This is different from erroneous boundary setting, which typically is a variant of, "You are not allowed to lie to me," or, "If you love me you won't lie to me," or, "You can't treat me that way." Anyone can treat you any way they treat you. Your choice is always limited to what you will or will not do.
Most people wimp out right here. I hear a lot of, "You do that again and I'm leaving," and whatever it is happens again, and the person does not leave. This is a monumental lack of integrity on the part of the "threatener." Threats are stupid and childish. If I say I will do something, I do it. This is not a threat. It's a consequence.
At the end of the day, nothing is more important than this: I do what I say I will do. No excuses. No wiggling out of it. No trying desperately to make it the fault of the other person.
There's a great text in the Bible:
But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment (James 5:12).
This is Integrity.
Get this: a loving relationship is not one in which another person does what you want them to on command, is not one in which the other person puts you first, is not one in which everything is a contest and everyone is keeping score.
A loving relationship is one where mutual respect and honesty is played out in integrity and forthrightness. No games, no manipulation, no trying to force the other person into a mold of your making.
You are either in the relationship wholeheartedly and unreservedly, or you are gone. No half-hearted, conditional commitments. My yes is yes, and my no is no.
Being an adult (and god, there are few of them) means being a person of integrity. Plain and simple.