“We have to trust that if we are acting with integrity, compassion, honesty and heart that the outcome will be the right one…” anonymous
I’ve made this anonymous, but I know who said it. I’m saying this because I think it is important to point out that I know the experience behind the words. I really value what is being said here. In recent years, I’ve often thought about trust. Primarily, my thinking has focused on people – trusting people, trust between people. Let’s call ‘anonymous’ Zach. Zach’s instruction here is talking about trust in relation to journey, process, dynamics. People are definitely involved – but it isn’t people he is asking us to trust. What’s crucial about his instruction is that he is drawing our attention to source and motivation – what is driving our actions. He’s asking us to trust that if we have right motivation/drivers underpinning our actions, we can do no wrong. Can this be true? And how is it relevant to social activism?
Tempting as it is to conflate the two, I want to make a clear distinction between what Zach is suggesting and the idea of ‘having good intentions’ – because the latter is rather vague. Zach’s pretty specific here: honesty, compassion, love (heart). He also mentions integrity: acting with integrity.
What does that mean – and why should we trust integrity to be our guide?
One definition of integrity is: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
Another definition is: the state of being whole and undivided.
I’m interested in both, as I think they are totally entwined, but at the moment I am more interested in the latter – which, I believe, isn’t often used when it comes to ‘acting with integrity.’ If applied, we would be talking about acting from a state of being whole and undivided.
What does that mean?
Sometimes, we are moving through the world driven by a sense of lack, longing and/or fear of loss. When we are driven by such a sense, we are likely to be sad, angry, fearful. Nothing wrong with any of these emotions – but action driven purely from them is likely to be reflexive and reactive – lacking consideration and often out of alignment with our core values – we act and then look back and want to say ‘I was not myself in that moment – that wasn’t me.’
Acting in a state of integrity is being true to who you are in your wholeness – not lacking anything – and therefore not trying to protect or gain anything. Instead, you are seeking to share yourself – you have plenty left over to give and with which to be in service. Zach is reminding us that when we come from this place of wholeness, our actions are the best that we can do – the best of who we are as people who are driven by compassion and love rather than fear, rage, vindictiveness.
What’s key here is understanding that ‘right action’ doesn’t mean we will necessarily get the outcomes we intended or sometimes even want – at least on the surface. Because our actions are not done in a vacuum. A lot depends on how the world around us perceives what we are doing – what’s alive in others. And sometimes all of our options involve someone losing something – or at least perceiving that they are losing something – which means decision-making will be difficult, will feel like because there or two or more ‘right’ paths there are actually none. Genuine ethical dilemmas do exist – but that’s for another post.The point is, choosing integrity is not necessarily a soft or easy option – and on the surface to some people it can seem ‘wrong.’
Integrity – which for me intrinsically includes honesty, compassion, love – is a powerful backstop, a reinforcement. If we act with integrity, we know that we have acted motivated by the best of who we are. Sometimes what follows is chaos – we fail to meet convention or expectations or the needs of certain people. Some people get angry because they feel they have been wounded by our actions – even though we are claiming to be acting out of love. This is where the trust Zach is talking about becomes really important.
In such moments, continuing down the path of integrity requires a leap – not that all will go according to plan, but that necessary shifts are taking place – driven by our actions. Doesn’t mean its comfortable – usually quite the opposite, at least in the short term. But just because it is discomfoting, doesn’t mean its wrong.
We often are reluctant to trust our direction of travel because we are so focused – or are being pushed to focus – on the short term and on having a clearly visible, pre-determined destination. Thing is, our direction is our destination. IF we want to choose to act for the long term, we need to be able to trust – because the long term is always unknown to us. Well – for the most part. What we can know, verify, is that if we act with integrity – from compassion, with honesty, with love – we are heading in the right direction. If you don’t believe me, check out this article about James O’Dea, former Director of Amnesty International in Washington, D.C.
Which brings me to social activism. Policymakers are obsessed with outcomes – particularly measurable outcomes. But many of us are familiar with amazing stories of community and change that weren’t planned – could not forecast how they could end. What mattered most were the motivations – usually a group of people sensing they have something to share and trying to work out how best to share it – feeling not just whole, but overflowing while rooted in compassion, honesty and love (heart). They trust that they are building positive human relationships and doing so while working with their innate resources – and that’s enough to go on. They trust their direction.
In what ways is this kind of trust already embedded into the way you (and your colleagues) work as social activist(s)/changemakers? How can you work with it more deeply?