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What happens when we live in integrity

From my vantage point this morning, as the early morning sun rises into my office window, there's a lot going on that's awfully good. Truth, there's plenty that isn't; go wander anywhere on social media or the major headlines. That said, perhaps there's a common denominator.


What an old-fashioned idea, right? Live up to our promises, keep our word, do what we agree to?

One of my first acts this morning was to report, block and delete a Medium scammer who, by virtue of writing on that platform, agreed to a certain set of behaviors which he promptly broke. That seems to be the fashion these days. Agree to a standard then promptly go off the reservation, and in the process hurt a lot of other people.

While I can't police the world, I can indeed police myself, and sometimes I will do what I can about other people's behavior (say, a drunk driver weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds) because said behavior is bad for the greater good.

However, the far more important relationship is integrity to the self. The lack thereof, in my humble opinion, is why we see so many people scam, break the law, do whatever it takes to get theirs at the cost of many. That is most fashionable these days especially among the one-percenters, and those who wish to emulate them.

Too many of us, it seems, want to be Tony Stark, a brilliant and rich piece of shit Marvel character who takes no responsibility for the damage he does to people and places. At least until he sacrifices himself in Avengers, but that doesn't change the fact that he's still a rich, arrogant piece of shit who really, ultimately does not care about anyone but himself.

Let's talk.


  1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
  2. the state of being whole and undivided.

Further: The word integrity evolved from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete. It is defined as 'an undivided or unbroken completeness', or 'a state of being complete or whole'.

The way I read and understand this, when we are acting and living in integrity, we are part of the whole, not only in and of ourselves but also of humanity. To be integrated into the whole of humanity implies a distinct moral responsibility to that whole, but that's another article.

This is about being integrated with the self.

Saga Supporter Penny Nelson, for my writing dollar, has demonstrated since last November precisely what I mean especially when it comes to self-care. At 73 last year, she heaved to and found herself a trainer. Eighty pounds overweight and having suffered a debilitating ankle break, she decided enough was enough. Now Penny regularly regales me (and through her, all of us) with her stories and progress.

She made a promise to "finish strong."

There is no greater promise, for being integrated with the self, taking care of the self, takes care of a great many others around us. By example, for one thing. We teach others what it looks like to have personal integrity.

This is sadly and sorely lacking in today's social fabric. We ghost each other for dates, job interviews, feedback, just about everything. When we do this to others we can almost hear the internal fabric rip. We most certainly complain if others do it to us, yet how willing are we to avoid, demean, undermine, steal from, take advantage of others in ways that we most certainly detest when it happens to us?

Jim Stutsman often writes about how he wants to be living his life as he ages through his seventies and to all accounts he is doing just that. We set a standard and do our level best to live by it. Other Saga Supporters and commenters periodically weigh in with their life experiences which speak to how they are caring for themselves. Beth Bruno recently wrote about minimalism, and how she chose to take a self-care path which ensured that her smaller space still reflected the warm hug she wished for people to feel when they walked into her home.

When we chase after ways of being which do not reflect our inner truth, which is part of being very young, part of finding ourselves, we lose ourselves in the process. In the heated hunt for approval, so many of us end up ill-defined, and later in life struggling to discover what we stand for. Hell, I've done it aplenty. Many of those who have been sexually abused find themselves selling their souls for love, their boundaries erased by that abuse.

It can take years. However, we build integrity step-by-step by asking those very hard questions about whether or not an action, a person, a way of life or being speaks to our inner truth.

This came up for me this morning as I took a few minutes to review a few articles I wrote earlier this year. I will admit to feeling a flush of pleasure when I realized that I am right now doing precisely what I said I would do: actively research ex-pat opportunities. Back in early 2022, I had no idea that my circumstances would push me hard in that direction. Rather than fight to stay, I am working hard to find the Next Best Place.

Taking care of this aging body to best insure that I have options in my eighties and beyond is also all about integrity, which is precisely what Penny and many more of you are doing.

The art of living in integrity means, at least for me, that I question my choices, question my reasoning, and I constantly challenge my actions. Every so often I do something that embarasses the holy shit out of me, as much a byproduct of sheer stress as it is from way too many concussions. My integrity demands that I own that, apologize for it and make fun of my propensity to demonstrate my deeply-flawed humanity.

If I hope to be any kind of role model, it is far more essential that I don't try to be a saint (saints were assholes too, including Mother Theresa) but rather, clean up the inevitable messes that humanity and life will most certainly create.

Integrity isn't a jail cell that I live in; it's a space where I get to challenge, review and engage those standards and values by which I say I wish to live and by which I hope to be judged. I will screw up. I will buy the occasional donut (or three). I will, on occasion, say or do something I deeply regret.

Having integrity means that I accept that I am fallible, accept that I will fall off the wagon. True integrity means that we also own those actions, and then get back on. That is how we re-integrate with the self and the whole of society.

New York Times writer David Brooks wrote:

“If you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured… It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be OK. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet."

I wish deeply to be such an "incandescent soul." If social media is any teacher, my guess is that everyone wants to be that, or the aforementioned asshole Tony Stark. The way I see it, one leads to truth and the other, well, down jerkoff lane. That's already a very very crowded highway led by Bezos, Musk and far too many others from pundits to politicians to preachers to parents to PR people to, well, way too many of us.

The way off said crowded superhighway is to choose values, principles and the hardest possible road.

That said, I share this from Maria Popova's Marginalian:

Resolutions for a Life Worth Living: Attainable Aspirations Inspired by Great Humans of the Past
Life-tested wisdom on how to live from James Baldwin, Ursula K. Le Guin, Leo Tolstoy, Seneca, Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman, Viktor Frankl, Rachel Carson, and Hannah Arendt.

She writes:

One of the saddest tendencies in our present culture is an indignant intolerance for the basic humanity of being human. People of the past are harshly judged by the standards of the present (which their own difficult lives helped establish), and people of the present are harshly judged by impossible (and hypocritical, in the full context of any judger’s life) standards of uniform perfection across all regions of private and public existence. And yet the eternal test of character — our great moral triumph — is the ability to face our own imperfections with composure, reflecting on them with lucid and luminous determination to do better — an essential form of moral courage all the more difficult, and all the more important, amid a cultural atmosphere that mistakes self-righteousness for morality and suffocates the basic impulse toward betterment with punitive intolerance for human foible. (author bolded)

My life is guided by the examples of those who whose the hardest road, that of self-love, which is bitterly difficult for me, and which I continue to learn step by dragging step. Part of that self-love has been to switch from diet and exercise as inhumane punishments to statements of self-care and respect. Changing the motive is part of self-love, and part of integrating the body into the whole of myself, not some skin suit to be punished for showing up.

One reason I keep a journal (the current digital version is 23 years old this year and the hand-written version dates back to 1979) is that it teaches me how often I made a promise to myself that I broke, most particularly about eating disorders and other self-damaging behaviors. I did eventually heal those actions, but it took decades. Still, I did it. It's hard to speak to how it felt to finally choose life, and walk beyond the mine-filled demilitarized zone of self-harm.

Finishing a book, something I promised myself for years. When I finally made that commitment it took me less than nine months to get that book in my hand. The heft of it made me cry.

There are plenty of other areas where I continue to fall down. However, I have learned to ask a different question: If I am not making those choices, what is going on? Is it extreme stress? Have my values shifted in some way I haven't noticed?

Have I evolved out of one life and into another without my noticing it? To that question, this is why periodic house cleanings are so helpful, for they allow us to acknowledge and recognize that we have indeed moved on, and hanging onto things, people and ways of being do not serve.

That is, of course, precisely where I am right now.

Yesterday, I had Aliens on while I was packing up my "keep" camping gear. That isn't just a movie to me. It's a story about an honorable, do-the-right-thing young female officer who is traumatize by an horrific alien, fights for what is right, loses her daughter, chooses to protect another child against extreme evil AND takes on the evil corporation which did its best to bury her. No matter what happens in this movie, Ripley does the right thing at sometimes great cost to herself. She takes over leadership when the military leader loses his shit and does everything she can to save not only herself but all of humanity.

Yeah, it's a piece of fiction. You and I can find examples in real-life, too, environmentalists fighting Coca-Cola's takeover of water rights and other evil corporate behaviors world wide. You and I might not take on Coke or Amazon, but we can walk our talk, do what we say we will do, and bloody well keep our promises.

This morning as I scanned a few articles and revisited this month's journal entries many years ago, I had the chance to give myself credit for continuing to be in alignment with what I said I would do. Not all the time, and not as much as I dearly wish. However, when humanity and frailty get in the way, punishment is not the answer.

Picking myself up, dusting off and keeping going is. The alternative isn't even an option.

I am moving towards a life where I can pet more horses, massage more elephants, have a few dogs, and listen to the sound of rain on the roof without being terrified that I can't make the bills. Throw a backpack on my back, do what I MOST love to do, and write about it in a way that, with any luck, moves others to make choices which are in alignment with who they are, rather than making money for the sake of making money.

I tried that too, and I had to scrape my soul back together afterwards.

And my integrity.

We cannot separate ourselves from the rest of humanity. And we cannot separate ourselves from ourselves. However we can rip ourselves apart internally, at great cost, when we aren't living, loving and working in integrity. The challenges never end.

But rising to them does indeed make for a life worth living.

Julia and buddy in Ethiopia Julia Hubbel

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