August 24, 2018

Dear Drama Observers,

I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating.

When our kids were little, my wife took them with her to grocery-shop one afternoon. She piled them into the car, drove to the store, got them out of the car, walked up and down the aisles, filled the cart, explained a million times why she wasn’t going to purchase this or that, stood in line to check out, rolled the cart out to the car, unloaded the groceries, and piled the kids back into the car. This was all way more fun than any human should be allowed to have.

Before driving away, she was putting things into her wallet and happened to notice that the checker had given her too much change. She thought about it for a second and made her decision. She got the kids out of the car, walked them back into the store, waited in the same line, told the checker what had happened, and returned the overage. The checker, who’d probably never witnessed such a thing, couldn’t figure out where to place this experience in her mental file cabinet. She looked at my wife as though she’d just arrived from Neptune.

I use this story as an example of integrity. Integrity means that your actions match your principles, what you do lines up with what you believe, and there is congruence between your internal convictions and your external actions. The colloquial expression is walking the talk, not to be confused with those “walking and talking” scenes from an Aaron Sorkin series. We had been teaching our kids the importance of honesty, and this one visual display was more impactful than dozens of verbal lessons.

A term capturing the opposite of integrity would be compartmentalization. A compartmentalized person believes this but does that. There is a pervasive pattern of incongruence between words and actions; the walk and talk have little to do with each other.

Integrity and compartmentalization are opposites, but they do have one similarity. I’d like to explain what I mean in the context of Drama People.

How Integrity and Compartmentalization Differ

Let’s face it; we all have those moments of hypocrisy when what we do is a poor reflection of what we believe—like extolling the virtues of healthy eating while consuming a large order of fast-food fries. Most every day, we fall short of our ideals in one aspect or another, and we need not self-reflect for very long to come up with numerous examples.

If you’re a normally wired person—and I’m assuming you are since a Drama Person probably wouldn’t be reading something called The Drama Review—those moments of hypocrisy will bother you. When you become aware of doing something that’s completely incongruent with your stated beliefs, that awareness will cause you to cringe. And that cringe reaction will incentivize you to alter your behaviors until they line back up with your beliefs.

Feeling bad when you’re out of line serves a good purpose if the bad feeling causes you to get back in line.

But when Drama People act hypocritically, they don’t cringe; they shrug. They compartmentalize in such a way that the incongruence between their beliefs and actions is no longer visible. They’ve seared their consciences to the extent that personal hypocrisy is unlikely to keep them awake at night.

Normally-wired people feel bad when they’re out of line while drama people can be out of line and feel fine about it.

What Integrity and Compartmentalization Have in Common

Now, we know the ways that integrity and compartmentalization differ.  But how are they similar? Here’s how: they are both contagious.

We’re drawn to real-life or fictional characters who stick to their principles despite overwhelming opposition. Think about how often that theme shows up in the movies we love. A client told me recently, “I’ve got my flaws, to be sure, but one thing I’m not willing to do is sacrifice my principles. Because once you give those up, what’s left?” My clients sometimes inspire me. This was one such time.

But compartmentalization can be contagious as well. This is particularly evident in our political culture where tribal members exchange their long-held principles for “wins” (see last week’s letter) and applaud themselves for pulling it off. It goes a little something like this… Hypocrisy on “our side” is overlooked if the “other side” is guilty of it as well. That perspective in and of itself is hypocritical.

When winning is all that matters, integrity falls by the wayside.

Let me close with an epilogue to my grocery-run story. My eldest daughter (one of the children my wife was piling into the car) now has children of her own. She took her kids to a store recently and when they got back into the car, she noticed that her son (my grandson) had inadvertently carried an unpaid-for item with him out of the store. She got the kids out of the car, went back into the store, stood in line at Customer Service, told them what had happened, and got the same you-must-be-from-Neptune look my wife had gotten 30 years earlier.

I wonder why my daughter thought to do such a thing…? Integrity is contagious.

Till next week.

6 replies

    You continue to inspire. Thank you, and please keep it up. The idea of integrity and compartmentilazation both being contagious is unique, and as a therapist I am happy to now have this tool in my toolbox!
    Thank you for your invaluable work!

    • Alan Godwin
      Alan Godwin says:

      You’re very kind, Judith. I’m always happy to hear that these things are useful to people. Thanks.

  2. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    I find this installment of the Drama Review particularly relevant, and appreciate the distinction between integrity and compartmentalization. Reading this felt like putting on a pair of glasses: very clarifying. Walking the talk sounds so simple. But it is not always easy. Even so (maybe especially so), this post inspires me to keep on the path of integrity.

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