“What The World Did Not Give to You, The World Can’t Take Away” — Traditional Black Gospel Lyric
We strive for all sorts of odd things in our brief lives. “Success” (whatever that means), fame, true love, attention, honor, riches, enjoyment, so on and so on. We continually strive for that nebulous “something” that is out there. If we get “it” outside of ourselves, it can be taken away. There is one priceless gift that no one can give you — a clear conscience that comes from integrity. Integrity can be given to you by no one and nothing from outside of your own self. Only you can give yourself such a priceless gift. Only you can cultivate that beautiful flower of your inner garden than no man can take from you.
We are a severely distracted people and generation. We imbibe media more than we do clear water. We seek lives like those of celebrities we look up to. Yet, how happy are they? Great writers, artists, and celebrities like Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway (the list is endless) have killed themselves. They had reached pinnacles of career, artistic, and financial success. Yet, it was not precious enough for them to hold on for while battling their depression and despair. I share this not from judgement, but empathy. We need to be sure that as we move up the “ladder of success,” it is leaned against the correct wall.
I worked briefly as a house painter in my early 20’s in Hollywood. I went into extremely rich (AKA “successful”) homes of producers, mega star musicians, film industry professionals; people who had “made it.” They, or their family members often admitted after awhile how dreadfully unhappy they were. They felt empty, sad, and living a lie they had to fight every day to maintain. Genuine life is something deeper than exterior things can give us.
Dr. Spock of the Starship Enterprise & The Stoics
I have been studying the ancient Stoic philosophers lately. They remind me of one of my favorite childhood T.V. heroes as a young boy. I loved the original “Star Trek” show by Gene Roddenberry. My favorite character was “Dr. Spock,” played by Leonard Nimoy. He was a serious badass. The dam Starship Enterprise could be about to crash into a meteorite, Captain Kirk would be straight losing his mind, and Dr. Spock would be Koolaid Cool as ice. Icy Ice Cool. Stoic. Nothing shakes him, he keeps his center at all times, and just carries out his duty. No help needed, and no expectations. A logical soldier. He had everything he needed to “do right” within his own mind and heart.
The ancient Stoics knew that life could bear ill tides and numerous uncertainties. These are the very kind of times we live in and navigate today. We are on the “Starship Enterprise” whirling towards a meteorite. Nothing is solid, the traditions and ethics of old are passing away, to be replaced by what?
That is a question each woman and man must determine for themselves. What are your personal ethics? What do they really mean to you? What is your “word” worth? As we move deeper into uncertain futures, I think to myself, “What can I be true to, hold onto, and not have taken away from me?” Integrity comes to mind. The priceless gift of integrity.
Your Personal Word is Profoundly Powerful
I am not talking about some stodgy stiff adherence to an external code of morality. This is not about some lifeless list of rules, of “should and shouldn’ts.” The integrity I speak of is a stubborn adherence to living out behavior — the ethics you profess with your mouth, and claim to believe in your heart. To do otherwise creates an internal reaction of stinging negativity. It is commonly referred to as a “guilty conscience.” A feeling that you failed to maintain your own professed creed. It feels like shit to feel guilty. No worse feeling in the world.
This is why so many people (and institutions, and nations, and groups) engage in the strenuous mental gymnastics of self-justification. We become masters at it. We can convince ourselves of anything, as long as we do not have to face the feeling of guilt. That ache is too deep to bear. Better (in our minds) to displace responsibility onto other people, circumstances, and situations outside of our control. Yet, in fleeing from the internal burn of a guilty conscience, we leave our own self-efficacy and base of power. We yield, and give away our most priceless gift — the gift of our own personal self; our integrity.
“What The World Did Not Give to You, The World Can’t Take Away”
As we move into a dynamic new era of change, we need to ask ourselves those old core eternal questions: “Who am I?” “What is my purpose?” “What am I supposed to be doing with this brief time I have?” Your children, your partner, your parents, your colleagues, look to you for . . . for what? For a positive model, some hope, some cord of truth and stability that makes some kind of sense? All you can do is never be untrue to yourself. That is the most priceless gift you can share with the world, your loved ones, and your own soul.
As Lauryn Hill sang in her hit song, “Superstar,” — “They hail you then they nail you.” She would know. She went from being the supreme queen of Hip Hop to being labeled a psycho. Just because she chose to stay true to herself, her heart, her values, her integrity. Integrity was priceless to her — sweetter than the awards, millions in royalties, and empty praise of the masses.
At the end of the day, no matter how the game ends, you can treasure your own integrity. We can always be a winner if we stick to our own truth, speak the truth, and seek to live out our truth. This world cannot give you integrity. And, thankfully the world cannot take it away. Nothing is worth the priceless gift of integrity.