Last weekend, I got to check something off my ‘Bucket List’ – a trip to Washington D.C. with my dad. He promised to take me after my 8th grade class trip got cancelled shortly after 9/11. After nearly 17 years of life getting in the way, we made it happen!
For those who haven’t been, I highly recommend it. There’s so much to see and do, sure. But, more than that, the rich history and legacy of a great nation is powerful to take in and experience. I could write a novel about our time there, but I want to focus on a couple of lessons I learned about integrity while in our nation’s capital.¹
Do What Is Right – Not What Is Easy
The concept is so simple, but the practice is far from it.
Perhaps my favorite part of my vacation with my father was our trip to the Lincoln Memorial. The marble figure of our 16th president is striking. His eyes seem to follow you wherever you go. While his statue is the main attraction, I found myself more drawn to the words inscribed on the walls on either side of Lincoln. One has the entirety of the Gettysburg Address. The other, the entirety of his second inauguration speech.
Found in both of these powerful speeches are references to the ongoing Civil War – and Lincoln’s distress of the nation’s friction is evident. Here was a man who was fighting an uphill battle against slavery from Day One. The nation was entrenched in a culture that supported an immoral, inhumane system, but President Lincoln took a stand – a stand that would lead to our nation’s deadliest war. He could have maintained the status quo, played the political game, and tried to simply manage a country – that would have been the easy decision. Instead, he made the decision to do what was right.
You Can’t Keep Integrity To Yourself
Sometimes, having integrity means calling out what is wrong. Avoiding conflict at all costs is a sign of cowardice, and the opposite of integrity.
During our tour of museums and monuments, we spent an afternoon in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’ve written and deleted 100 sentences trying to describe the experience, but no adjectives or words can do it justice. I can say that evil is very much a real thing and we’d all be wise to remember it. And that leads me to my point – we must not be afraid to call evil by name and confront it. On one of the walls of the museum is a quote attributed to Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran minister in Nazi Germany.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
Indifference and apathy are dangerous states of being, but if we’re not careful, they can be insidious guests in our lives.
No Gray Space In Integrity
I know I used two “obvious” examples and we all know that racism, slavery, and genocide are wrong. But that didn’t stop those egregious things from happening years ago. And if we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it.
So, my challenge for you is to take a look around you to find ways you can take a stand to let integrity win out in your life.
¹Not the cheesy, urban myth-type integrity like feisty young George Washington admitting to chopping down the cherry tree.