Principles matter to me and always have done, but exerting them and standing by them has come at a cost. Others may call it stubbornness or choosing my battles poorly, but if you can’t sleep at night then what good is that? I used to think integrity and morals were natural traits that all humans learn, but as I am now in my fourth decade I realize that while humans have that capacity, it’s a choice that many don’t opt for.
Once upon a time I also believed that having morals didn’t cost anything, it shouldn’t and I’m not talking financially (although that does come into it), but at a personal cost. Having integrity and morals can cost you in many ways; friendships and relationships, financially, and most importantly your self-esteem and worth. Why the latter you may ask? It’s because it gets questioned and judged by others, and no matter how resolute you are in what you believe is right, it’s hard to ignore others perceptions and how they react. It shouldn’t matter, but unless you are a hermit then human interactions will be important and necessary at some point.
As a child I would stand by my principles and beliefs, and it was hard because as a minor you have limited rights. The legal rights and moral rights are blurred between whether you are able to make an educated choice, or when the law deems that you are old enough. The ironic thing is one cannot ascertain capacity by age alone—there are many 50 year olds who legally can make choices, but in reality lack the education or ability to make moral or sensible ones. However, society has to create some kind of boundaries with age limits to protect some and also to enable others to have choices.
The emotional cost of exercising your morals and standing by your integrity can be boundless. I say that because often others will not understand why you choose the long and less obvious path, and may try and make you feel guilty, call you a traitor, and some may even physically attack you if not verbally or bombard you with emails and texts filled with hate and anger. There maybe false accusations too, in an attempt to elicit an apology to convince you to change your mind. While it is prudent to choose your battles wisely, you must also look at the potential outcomes not only for those concerned but also for yourself. Ultimately you must live with the choices made, and also your honest reasons for doing so. That includes giving advice or support only when asked, however, when one supports it’s not merely a case of telling someone what they wish to hear for that would be a disservice, but finding a way to help tactfully. If they are wrong and clearly making a poor decision then why would you encourage and support that? By enabling it you aren’t assisting but are choosing an easy way, thus diminishing your integrity on your moral compass.
Ignorance is not always bliss because guilt has a habit of reminding you of what you could have/should have done or said at the time. I’ve come to terms with most of my guilt for I too took the advice and at several points in my life chose to look the other way. It wasn’t really my business, and I had too much going on—well, that’s what I said to myself at the time. By the time I hit my mid-thirties you realize that you do have choices, and taking sides may be profitable financially and less stressful initially, but those sleepless nights can haunt you indefinitely.
There have been several times I have been falsely accused and I stood my ground to prove my innocence, and what I have found is justice is slow, painful and costly in financial terms as well as the mental toil that comes with it. I believe in justice because if people didn’t stand up for what is right, then it enables others to get away with misdeeds. However, I understand why people choose to settle or back down and I don’t judge them harshly. They may feel the mental pressure is too much, or that the outcome could harm others, and financially it could lead to poverty. In my case, I received no real apology, financially it cost me, mentally it wore me down, I lost friendships (people who had believed the other party eventually stopped threatening me, but only one said sorry), and my reputation had been tarnished. Would I do it again? Probably, because I know justice was done and it was a necessary action to take, and the justice system found in my favor.
How do you deal with situations where people are in denial and don’t wish to hear the truth? Do you listen and just nod or do you help them face the truth? The former is easier, but what if something happened and you know you could have stopped it or said something to prevent tragedy? Would you feel guilty and that you had some blame? The latter is a little more complex than merely telling the truth because it is usually met with hostility and anger.
I’ve had more than my fair share of people questioning my loyalty when in fact often people don’t wish to listen or actually want advice, but need someone to vent at as a punch bag for their errors or poor choices. I’m faced with either keeping quiet because whatever I say will get twisted and thrown back at me, and if I do remain quiet I am then questioned as to why I am not being a supportive friend. Either way I have discovered there is no easy or peaceful way to ‘support’ someone, so I am left with with determining my actions by my integrity. That means to tactfully convey the truth and to offer advice and support honestly. Usually that means finding a way to tell someone that they may have been to blame, or that if they are making excuses (such as I have no time, or I have no money, or I don’t know where to go) not to resolve something that it is indeed an excuse and not a reason. Generally people don’t like to hear the truth when they are reluctant to face things, but that is not your lesson. Your lesson is to know when to stand by your morals and integrity even if the consequences aren’t that pleasant. Telling someone it’s fine to invoice for something that didn’t exist because no one will check, is that moral? While they will make the final choice, advocating it as acceptable behavior isn’t. It’s called fraud, and while many people sweep these small acts daily under the radar it doesn’t take away the fact of what it is.
Having integrity and morals can be a costly exercise and a lonely one at times. It doesn’t guarantee sleep at night either (one would think it would), but deep down you know you did the right thing even if no one else acknowledges or appreciates it, although you may question your actions when no one else approves. I’ve been verbally abused so many times, and yet those who did the abuse hurling remain stuck in their pit of denial and pool of pity of woe is me. What I have learned is some people don’t wish to learn even if I tell them this is a lesson for them to learn from. They simply don’t want it and exclaim it’s too hard and don’t want to take any responsibility. We all have an element of responsibility in life to one another as humans. That doesn’t mean we should forsake our own integrity to make others feel better about themselves when they are either lying or opting not to help themselves. There is a fine line between interference and guidance for each of us have choices, and guidance is merely proffering alternate options that may not have been considered.
I can sleep at night, not that well as I have insomnia and an overactive mind that has so many ideas and thoughts passing through constantly, but on a moral level I know that my integrity is intact. Yes, like many I have regrets and some tiny fragments of guilt from my greener days, but I have learned from them and learned to live with them. We all create different boundaries for our morals and levels of integrity, and that is priceless. I can say it’s worth the verbal abuse, and spates of loneliness, which may sound strange, but I can look in the mirror and know that I am honest and I am at peace within myself because no one owns me or can buy my integrity.