The Drama Review (July 21, 2017)

I’d like to punch pause for a week on our discussion of drama person types—we looked at controllers last time—and address a quality that drama people lack. Integrity.

No doubt, the word has been defined in many ways but here’s my best shot: Integrity is consistency between the public and private selves. In other words, who you are in private matches who you are in public.

Granted, we’re not precisely the same everywhere we go at all times, nor should we be.  If you were at a football game, you might jump up and scream something about where your opponents should spend eternity. But you’d probably think twice about doing that at a funeral.  When we display aspects of ourselves that are appropriate to different settings, that’s normal.

It’s fair to say that “authenticity” is a close synonym. I watched a video recently in which millennials were being interviewed. They all expressed a preference for authentic leaders. That is, people who were honest, transparent, and willing to own up to their personal flaws. But they had little use for fakes, phonies, or posers.

Now, all of us have gaps between how we’re perceived and how we actually are.  But here’s the difference between those of us who are normally-wired and drama people. A normal person is bothered by the gaps and wants to close them.  A drama person is unbothered by the gaps and wants to conceal them.

He insists, in effect, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

It’s a bothersome thing when curtains get pulled back. We’ve all had the experience observing a revered figure fall from a pedestal. That always hurts and it’s always disconcerting.

But when curtains get pulled back and you observe the private person being essentially the same as the one you’ve been observing, well, that’s impressive.

A few years ago, I wrote a magazine article about how to cultivate integrity in your children. What you see below is an adaptation of that article.  We’ll return to our discussion of drama types next week.

Infecting Your Kids With Integrity

“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.

Even Jesus had little use for this public-private split.  He said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravaging wolves.” (Matt. 7:15)  Integrity, being the real deal, was a big deal even back then.

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.

Be Truthful

Noted professor and author, Howard Hendricks, 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 had more impact on our kids 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.

Be Transparent

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.

Be Talkative

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.

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.