“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind,” declared Emerson. Personally, I think that integrity is the very base of a truly happy and blessed life. When someone is true to their integrity in their living – one way or another, the whole world knows it, the whole world is lit.
My father, Reginald Foster, had integrity. The time came when he had to stand by that integrity — just as it comes for each of us in our lives. At the age of 61, Dad, a veteran London journalist, suddenly found himself at the center of a whirlwind that had to do with a British spy named Vassall and leaks that had been made to the press concerning Vassall. The government, in its wisdom, set up a tribunal to investigate these leaks, and the bottom line was that my father and a colleague were given an ultimatum: “Tell us who gave you the information for your stories or you’ll go to prison.”
Was Dad going to be true to the journalistic ethics instilled in him since he first became a reporter on the London Daily Mail at age 19 – that is to say, never disclose a source – or not?
In a dramatic face-off in a crowded, hushed chamber, Dad politely told the judge he was sorry but he couldn’t do what the judge wanted. It would be most untrue not only to himself, he told the judge, but to many brave colleagues who had perished in WW2.
Dad was given a six-month sentence, later reduced to four months, and he and a colleague became known worldwide as “the silent reporters.”
We never know when we will be called upon to make the same kind of choice my father had to make in that long-ago situation — whether we will be true to ourselves and our values and principles or not.
Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, no one else is involved, or we think no one else is involved. And usually the issues are minor, or so it might seem. But the truth is, nothing is minor, or unimportant. Am I going to acknowledge, to myself at least, that something I said to another person was out-of-place? Am I going to recognize an unworthy or destructive thought for what it is?
Integrity, ultimately, is about honoring oneself, it seems to me – honoring the truth at the core of our own being. In a sense, it’s realizing we don’t have a choice. Dad wasn’t really trying to be a hero or impress anyone when he stood up and spoke as he did. He just didn’t have a choice.
Without integrity, our lives become hollow. We are a house divided, as the prophet said. And though our lives may glitter on the outside – or not — any real meaning or happiness continually eludes us.
What a different story, when integrity is present. When we surrender the delusion of choice, so that all that matters to us in any moment is to express what is true, and right, and helpful, in that moment, as best we may, we find a source of strength and comfort within ourselves that never fails.
In my Dad’s case — while he would no doubt have avoided prison if he could – it actually worked out in quite a positive and creative way for him. He became good friends with a number of inmates. He became good friends with the warden. His health improved, too, because he was relieved of the bother of going to a pub for awhile.
Most of all, he was able to live with himself – to keep on embodying the unique, indomitable spirit that was his until virtually the day he died, still youthful in spirit, at age 95. “A joke for every occasion,” he liked to say. Maybe it wasn’t quite true all the time. But it was true most of the time.