Dear wishing-for-more-integrity readers,
I wrote a magazine article a few years back entitled, “Infecting Your Kids With Integrity” which I’ve posted before on The Drama Review.
Drama people are sometimes described as “complex” which usually means, “I can’t reconcile who he is in public with who he is in private. Those things never come together for me. He’s a very complex person.” But every now and then (it seems increasingly less common these days), you might hear someone say, “He’s the same in private as he is in public. He is who he appears to be.”
Drama people may capture our attention, but people of integrity capture our hearts.
Anyway, someone asked me recently to re-post that article so, here it is:
“It’s not who you are in life that matters,” a famous American father told his later-to-be-famous sons. “It’s who people think you are.” When a person adopts this way of thinking, a split develops between the public and private, more emphasis being placed on image management than character development. A person of integrity, on the other hand, values consistency. That is, he strives to be the same in private as he is in public. He is who he appears to be. His private behavior matches the public perception. He’s the real deal.
How do we raise kids who possess integrity in a culture that seems to value image more than character? Like many things, integrity is more often caught than taught. There are at least three ways to infect our kids with integrity.
Noted professor and author, Howard Hendricks, once said, “You cannot impart what you do not possess.” If we don’t demonstrate personal integrity, our kids will never catch the infection.
My wife once made a grocery store run with our children in tow. After shopping, she noticed that the clerk had miscalculated the change, giving her too much. She got the kids back out of the car, stood in line, and returned the money. The dumbfounded clerk looked at her as if she had just arrived from Neptune. But that one visual display of honesty carried more impact than a hundred verbal lessons. Furthermore, keeping the overpayment would have sent another message: It’s OK to be a phony. What you say doesn’t have to match what you do.
But what about those times when we blow it? When our inconsistencies display themselves? The discomfort of that inclines us to engage in cover-ups, to pretend, or to act as though the blooper never happened.
In the wake of a mistake, we have the opportunity to teach our kids something else very important about integrity. That is, when we blow it (which we will), we need to acknowledge it, take responsibility for it, and correct it. This keeps us off the slippery slope populated by integrity-deficient people, where mistake-free portrayals are commonplace. Personal integrity is hurt not by errors but by refusing to acknowledge them. Politicians are sometimes told, “The public tolerates confession better than deception.”
After finishing graduate school in Oregon, I accepted a job offer in Tennessee. After four straight days in a mini-van, all five of us had become the worst versions of ourselves, me included. Figuring I needed to exercise my confession muscle, I remarked to my ten-year-old daughter, “You know, we haven’t treated each other very well on this trip, have we?” She replied, “Yeah, I can understand mom losing her cool but, Dad, you’re a psychologist!” The friends we were visiting loaned me their spatula so I could scrape my self-esteem off the floor. Confession doesn’t always feel good but it’s a necessary part of integrity development.
Public rule-keeping alongside private rule-breaking requires silence. Talking with our kids makes it harder for them to keep the private and public in separate compartments. The lines of communication are kept open by:
- Spending time with them. Often, the subjects in the greatest need of airtime come up on their time tables, not ours.
- Listening to them. Nothing shuts down talking like the lack of listening. Encouraging them to them discuss everything (even if we’re not particularly interested) keeps them talking.
- Welcoming questions. We should create an atmosphere where no question, regardless of the subject matter, is out of bounds. If their questions threaten us, they’ll stop asking them. Or they’ll ask someone else.
- Focusing on relationship more than rules. If we over-emphasize rules, we’ll have neither rule-keeping nor relationship. If we emphasize relationship, we’ll have it and they’ll be more likely to keep the rules.
- Discussing the “why’s” as well as the “what’s”. If we explain what to do without explaining why we do it, they’ll probably stop doing it when no one is watching.
- Having fun. Laughter is a verbal lubricant. The more enjoyable it is for our kids to be with us, the greater the influence potential.
If you’re unlike the previously-mentioned famous American father, the message you want to impart is, “The person you are in private should match the person you are in public.” That’s integrity. If we, as parents, demonstrate consistency, acknowledge personal flaws, and encourage openness, the integrity we seek to instill is attainable in a culture hungry for authentic, real-deal people.
Addendum: You Might Be An Integrity Infector If . . .
- Your kids talk to you so much that you get worn out at times.
- Your kids like being with you.
- You like being with your kids.
- You and your kids joke around and laugh a lot together.
- You and your kids handle your mistakes humorously. Your kids kid you about them.
- You can talk somewhat intelligently about what’s going on in their world.
- You ask questions about what’s going on in their world.
- They ask you “why” questions. You welcome and applaud questions of any sort.
- You can handle their “why” questions without being overly threatened by them.
- They display remorse when caught in misbehaviors.
- On occasion, they admit to misbehaviors even before you discover them.
- You use incidences of misbehavior to explain why correct behavior is important.
- Your kids don’t lie well. You’re able to tell when they are fabricating.
- They’ve seen you be honest on occasions when you could have gotten away with dishonesty.
- Your kids seem to understand why you have the rules you do. They ask questions about them more than they complain about them.