Difficult jobs, difficult people, minor health challenges, our budgets, our doubts and mixed emotions — these things may not be easy or comfortable, but by comparison, they seem fairly manageable. Very often, in my experience, these challenges turn out to be gifts, opportunities to hone ourselves and our perceptions in ways that make us stronger and more compassionate. I believe that we have an obligation to face these problems with as much integrity as we can muster, because in many cases, by improving our own personal integrity we wind up lightening the burdens of others and improving the world around us in surprising ways.
Integrity, of course, is not a nicety to be pulled out only in times of personal convenience and abundance. It is in difficult times that our integrity becomes even more essential, and perhaps more precious.
On the last page of this magazine, there is a quote by Victor Frankl, a celebrated philosopher and Holocaust survivor. Frankl observed that within the horror of the concentration camps, there were many people who went mad or numb, others who became monsters, and still others who transcended their environments with acts of quiet heroism. Among this last group were people who consistently gave up what little they had to feed others, who took pains to offer others comfort, or who composed beautiful music in their heads even in the midst of unspeakable violence and despair. These were the people who consciously chose to wield their “last of human freedoms” — the power to choose how they would react, mentally and emotionally, even in a dehumanizing and apparently hopeless environment.
Frankl’s observations, chronicled in his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning (Simon and Schuster, 1963), send an incredibly powerful message, one that has inspired countless individuals to do and be their best in times when it would have been been far easier not to. The thing is, these are not always life and death situations. In fact, we get the vast majority of our “integrity opportunities” in small, mundane circumstances: the projects we lead, the commitments we make, the level of honesty we are willing to uphold. All these things define us. They determine the way we touch life, and whether that touch supports or disturbs the things we most value.
Regardless of what we might want to be known for in our youth, as we age, most of us care increasingly about being known for our personal integrity. This is, in part, because we have had the opportunity to observe the importance of integrity as a guiding principle. We’ve come to see how its presence or absence in every part of our lives directly impacts the quality of our lives. We’ve come to know what it means to have trustworthy friends and false ones; to work with people who are good to their word, and those who aren’t. We’ve seen what miracles can be accomplished by those who are committed to offering the world their best, and we’ve seen how much damage can be justified by those who — in the name of fear, greed and resentment — feel entitled to do their worst.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl writes: “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
Whatever personal challenges and tasks life has set for you, it is my hope that you find something in this issue of Experience Life that inspires you to rise and face them with conviction.