If it seems like I’ve been writing about mistakes a lot, it’s because I feel like I’m making a lot of them and am trying my best to sift through the uneven emotions felt in their aftermath. Fortunately, I’m in good company. On my post The Value of Our Mistakes, a reader wrote:

My beginning might not be as humble [as the examples you provided]. But my falls have been devastating. I’m trying to climb back from a lifetime of failure that peaked 7 to 10 years ago. Those that haunt me most are interpersonal, not occupational or financial, although there are plenty of those. Not aiming for greatness. I learned more from the interpersonal failures, but am still finding more every year. I want to climb out to relish sunshine on my face and swell my heart. Keep trying, I guess. How do I get there from here?

I responded:

From what I can read, you are already well on your way. I have made my share of interpersonal and professional blunders this year, so I feel your pain. I’m trying my best to move forward, as well. I do believe we are rewarded for that somehow, some way. We just don’t see it yet. Here’s wishing you see the gold behind your failures soon.

Defining integrity

In other words, I believe that his intention is enough. I can tell how hard he is trying to be a better person. I sense his compassion and goodness. They are the same qualities I identify in myself. Even though my mistakes seem to be accruing faster than teenage gym socks with no matches, I have never questioned my intentions or what lies in my heart. I know that I am a good person who intends to be a devoted wife, a caring mother, an honest worker, and a loyal and inspiring voice to readers. I try to exercise integrity in everything I do. And yet, at least a few times a week, I fall short of that. Pain takes over and I make a stupid decision. I do things and say things that are not consistent with my truth. As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt.” Even when they have good hearts.

Having integrity, I have learned, isn’t so much about getting everything right the first time, and being able to perfectly align your beliefs with your actions. It’s about starting with the right intention, and following through as best you can – even if your success rate is around 70 percent some days. Moreover, integrity doesn’t mean that you won’t feel the fear that comes with following your intention. It means that you proceed anyway, despite the panic.

On truthfulness

The same definition could be said of truthfulness. In his book, Mere Morality, Lewis Smedes writes:

Truthfulness is a straight line between what we say and what we are as much as between what we say and what we think. It touches our being as it touches our thinking. We all draw profiles of ourselves with the messages we send to others—no matter whether the media be words or actions. The moral question is whether we intend the profile to look like what we really are. Truthfulness about what we are may be even more important than truthfulness about what we think….Pretending is making believe we are what we do not intend to be.

Smedes goes on to say that feelings are different from intentions or truthfulness. We need always make that distinction. He writes, “I may intend to be hopeful, positive, and helpful, but at any moment I may feel like a hopeless, negative person and want to help no one but myself. What I must be true to is my intention, not my feeling.”

Toward integrity

Truthfulness and integrity are more complicated than abiding by a code of conduct. Aligning all the parts of us to speak one universal message of love is a struggle that some of us bump into a few times a day. That’s why we must remember that our intention to do the right thing, to love deeply, to be trustworthy is enough. To have integrity is to match our intentions with our beliefs and actions as much as possible, exercising some self-compassion when we fall short.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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4 Responses
  1. Al

    Intention alone can run out of steam. We must “show up” again and again. Life is inherently full of multiple failures but we do not become failures until we quit trying. As long as we keep on going all the mistakes will just be building blocks to our ultimate success. And then, we keep on Moving, serving others, and growing

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