Integrity has become one of those “buzz” words businessmen and politicians have run so far into the ground that there’s barely a recognizable remnant of it left in society. It’s one of those words I use when describing the things within me that I feel are non-negotiable. It’s also one of those words I have trouble articulating, especially to a teenager.
I was recently stumped when faced with addressing a friends’ son who is unfortunately having to learn the word (or the anti-definition of the word) through observing the actions of his own father. There are many young men whose fathers give extremely poor examples for becoming men of character. There are many young men whose fathers live different lives at home, at work, in the community and in church. How do you teach a boy about truth, promise-keeping, and concern for others when the most prominent example in his life is doing the exact opposite? This is my journey for the month; I’m going to start with truth and build from there.
Truth is the stem to all things good. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” Mark Twain suggested that, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” And one of my favorites from Thomas Jefferson is, “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.” You see we, as a society, have forgotten to always lead with the truth even if we do not have the satisfaction of knowing how things will end up…we should, and we can…but it ain’t easy.
We have allowed truth to have attributes such as “stretching,” “circumventing,” or “little white lies in lieu of.” Attributes we’d like NOT to teach our children. Why is truth so difficult? What do I teach my young friend about integrity; and how do I speak in terms he can fully understand? Am I setting the right example? Is what I say and do enough? I don’t have all the answers, but trying to teach and failing beats not trying at all.
In order to teach it, I must first define it. Integrity; from the Latin root word means “soundness, wholeness or completeness.” By Webster’s definition it means “the steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code; incorruptibility.”
I shall teach my friend about that kind of integrity; one of incorruptibility! As I researched the topic and definition I found some great guidelines and best practices that I’d like to share with you here. In an article about integrity, savvydaddy.com does a great job in outlining key components to teaching integrity as I’ll extract:
- Be the example. If you’re doing questionable business deals, cheating on your taxes or not practicing what you’re preaching, your children will see that and pick it up as one of their traits as well. Even everyday things like running red lights when nobody is around, leaving a small tip for your waitress or taking the extra change that the cashier at the grocery store gives you shows a lack of integrity, too. Of course, infidelity is the ultimate cheat that many parents do not consider the circumstances before making a decision to violate a marital contract.
- Keep your promises. A child’s memory is unbelievable. Keeping your word is part of showing integrity, so be sure to follow through with your promises at all costs. If it’s just impossible to keep your promise, discuss the situation with your child and see if they’ll let you “off the hook.” But make sure this is more of the exception rather than the rule.
- Teach friendship skills. Teach them the differences between being a “good friend” who has concern for others and being a “bad friend” or an acquaintance. By using friendships as teaching moments, your child will learn that a huge part of integrity is to treat others the same way they’d like to be treated themselves.
- Instill empathy and compassion. These are two main characteristics of integrity because it teaches children to put themselves in “someone else’s shoes.” If you catch your child making fun of another child on the playground, try to get them to understand how that other child feels when they get ridiculed. By doing this, your child might have a totally different perspective on their actions.
- Don’t turn the TV off. Watching TV with your child provides a plethora of teaching moments for teaching your children integrity and character-driven values. When your son sees his favorite ball player being questioned about steroid abuse, it’s a great time to explain why drugs are dangerous and unacceptable. You can also find everyday examples all around you if you just look for them.
- Teach individuality. Many kids will get into trouble by simply following the crowd. They don’t want to be different because they want acceptance from their peers. But you can teach your child that being different is also a great character trait. They don’t have to be like everybody else to have integrity and they certainly don’t have to break the law or get into trouble to be “cool.”
The Savvy Daddy site was a great resource, but I will tell you that this is just the beginning of what I believe is my ongoing conversation with my friend and with myself about integrity. It’s one of those things that you can’t merely explain you must “do!” The lesson here is that there should be no difference between who you are at work, at home or at church—whether your kids are watching or not!