My Take on Building Character and Integrity

thIt has been said that character is defined by what we do when we think no one is watching. What an illuminating concept!.  I believe that most of us have a public face and a private face. There are parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see. Typically, we tend to hide the aspects that would not be viewed favorably by society. Greed, lust, jealousy, pettiness, fear and so on. We also tend to hide our weaknesses.

I also believe that most people are “good” at their core; decent, loving, compassionate and kind. However, even those we perceive to be good people are capable of unspeakable acts.  How many times have we heard a convicted murderers family member or friend say, “I just can’t believe he would be capable of something like that. It’s so unlike him.” The killer projected one identity to the world while secretly he was someone else entirely.

Darion Marcus Aguilar’s family and friends said the same thing about him.  On the morning of January 26, 2014, Aguilar climbed into a taxi in Burtonsville, Maryland. He carried a backpack and a pump-action, pistol-grip shotgun, a Mossberg 12-gauge.  Just 19 years old, Aguilar was a 2013 graduate of James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring.  He was scheduled to work early Saturday, at a Dunkin’ Donuts, but by day’s end, his mother, having tried again and again to reach him, finally reported him missing to the police. Aguilar kept a journal in which he wrote of his dissatisfaction with his life, according to police, and fatally shot two employees of a clothing shop. Then he turned the shotgun on himself.

Most of us are not murderers. Yet, even those of us who would be considered “good people” often think nothing of stealing, cheating on our spouse, or worse.  What does that say about our character? Is it wrong only if we get caught?  How many times have we done something that we probably wouldn’t have done if others had been there to see it?  Would we feel embarrassed if these things were brought to public awareness?  Did we act on our impulses only because we felt sure no one would ever find out?

The Bible tells us that sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden. In the Christian religion, sin refers to that which displeases or dishonors God. The Ten Commandments warn us against adultery, theft, murder and more. Supposedly if we follow that list, we will remain in God’s good graces.  Remember, they are not called “The Ten Suggestions!”

In some religions, there is only one commandment: Harm None; which basically covers all angles in two words. Do nothing that would cause harm to yourself or another. Seems simple enough, yet, in both of these examples, there are gray areas, aren’t there?  Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s right or wrong.  If we find money on the street and pick it up, is that stealing? Does it make a difference if it was $5.00 or $500.00?  If we lie to protect someone’s feelings, is that wrong?  If we take some paper clips or pens home from the office, is that stealing? Does it “harm” the company, really?  If we flirt with someone other than our spouse, or fantasize about them, is that cheating?  Or is cheating only the physical act of sexual intercourse?

In situations like these, how do we really know the right course of action? How do we balance integrity with our impulses and desires? I think it helps to examine the motives and possible consequences. What is our intent in this situation? What do we hope to gain from it? Could our actions harm another, or our self? If our actions became public knowledge, would we be okay with that?

Maybe some of you are thinking, “What’s the big deal? So what if I take a few things from work, or cheat on my wife?  What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” That may be true, but does it hurt you in the long run?  Do those actions detract from the kind of person you are? Don’t they dim your inner light? If it’s true that we are all connected, then isn’t it also true that harming another means harming ourselves? By disrespecting others, we disrespect ourselves.  But more importantly, are we disrespecting God?

Personally, I don’t believe that God is angry and judgmental, sitting up in heaven waiting to cast us into the pits of Hell for our transgressions. I do believe, however, that there will be a final “review” of our lives, and we will have to answer for the things we’ve done. But I think we will be our own judges. In the deepest part of ourselves, we do know right from wrong.

We are not perfect, and no one is expecting us to be. We all make mistakes and do things we are later ashamed of. We are human, after all.  But there is a big difference between making a mistake and purposely doing something we know is wrong.  We may try to fool ourselves at times and justify our actions. Maybe your wife doesn’t respond to you the way that she used to, so you try to convince yourself that it’s okay to “hook up” with a woman who does. Or maybe your husband doesn’t pay much attention to you so it’s okay to have an affair with a man who does.  Perhaps your employer gives you a crappy raise, so you decide to make up for it in other ways, like stealing supplies or fudging your time sheet. They asked for it, right? You certainly have the right to do these things, and probably no one will stop you. Our greatest gift in life is Free Will. Unfortunately, it can also be our greatest curse. There are always consequences to our actions, whether they come now or later.

In the end, it’s all a matter of personal accountability. Do we want to be a person of character, or not? It doesn’t matter if we get caught or not. What matters is that we are defined by our actions. If I take something that doesn’t belong to me, I am a thief. If I cheat on my spouse, I am an adulterer. If I don’t want to get caught, I probably shouldn’t do these things in the first place. The truth always has a way of making itself known, but that’s just my take.

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