Weekly Edgework #47 - May 24, 2005

Integrity

The combination of courage and kindness is both the source and product of integrity (The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, by Stephen Covey, p. 150).

Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).

And be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

It seems to me that most people I know want to be seen by others as persons of integrity. Without it we lack a healthy sense of self-esteem and are unable to function with confidence in the context of our communities. With integrity we can hold our heads high and live purposeful lives. However desiring integrity does not ensure that we indeed have it. When we don’t have it we might be able to fool ourselves into thinking we do, but seldom can we fool others.

Stephen Covey suggests that integrity both rises from a deep well of courage and kindness within us and then demonstrates these same qualities in our relationships with others. That is to say that integrity cannot simply stand on its own. It grows in soil rich with the nutrients needed to grow courage and kindness, qualities that will also be seen in the fruit we bear.

Seldom do we think of courage and kindness in the same context. Courage is needed for battle. Joshua needed courage because of the many battles he knew confronted him. William Wallace needed courage in the 14th century to pick a fight that would lead to the liberation of Scotland from English control. Little room for kindness here. Hit them hard and hit them often! From this vantage-point kindness is seen as being akin to weakness.

In his book, Wild at Heart, John Eldridge suggests that Jesus is more like William Wallace than Mother Teresa (p. 22). All Mother Teresa did was show kindness to dying people. According to Eldridge, Jesus leads us, especially men, into battle – not to gentlemen reputed for their kindness. We must be known as men of courage ready to fight. For me such talk simply perpetuates the worn-out stereotype that men thrive on courage while women blossom on kindness. If that is truly the case then we should divide all biblical passages having to do with our Christian walk into two categories: one for men and the other for women. And I suppose the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) would best fit into the female category.

I think Covey has it right when he insists that we must blend courage and kindness together to create integrity. This formula holds true for both sexes. It is far too simplistic to recommend courage to one and kindness to another, as if to say that God calls some persons to courage (usually men) and others to kindness (usually women). Integrity demands that both be present in our lives whether we be male or female.

Covey’s formula places courage and kindness on both sides of integrity. In other words, a person who has internalized courage and kindness will become a person of integrity, whose outward actions then will demonstrate courage and kindness as well. Courage and kindness for outward show cannot be manufactured on the spot. They must to be nurtured over time in the internal recesses of the soul, like plants in a nursery, if they are to become genuine expressions of integrity where the rubber hits the road.

But how do we nurture courage and kindness in our souls? First we must become aware of our souls. I meet many Christians who seem not to be in touch with their souls. They are busy from dawn to dusk and can talk about nearly anything under the sun, but when you try to draw near to their souls their defenses come up. Defenses of silence, diversion or a message to “mind your own business” – although usually not stated so crassly. It takes real courage to face your soul – all that accumulation of good and bad that defines who you have become. Many who are prepared to do outward battle are wimps when it comes to confronting the essence of who they really are.

Once we have the courage to confront our souls it is important to practice kindness, both toward ourselves and those who have contributed to the shadow sides of our internal makeup. If we are unkind at this point we will invariably begin pointing fingers of blame. If we point to ourselves we will end up with a low sense of self-esteem. If we continue pointing a finger of blame at those who have hurt us, our wounds of the soul can not heal. It takes courage to be kind to oneself and others in the context of getting to know our souls.

It is only when courage and kindness work hand-in-hand in this way in the context of our inner lives that we will begin to be aware of a growing sense of personal integrity. And that integrity will begin to spill over into the world of our relationships evidenced by a natural blend of courage and kindness.

This is something that I need to keep working at. I tend to separate courage and kindness. If I work up the courage to confront someone about an issue that needs to be aired, for example, my natural inclination is to forget about kindness. I rehearse in my mind – sometimes aloud – how I will set the person straight in a confrontational style. Why is it so hard for me, while I am already focused on gathering up courage, to think that I might also need courage to be kind in the context of the confrontation?

I am challenged by Covey’s vision of integrity. First to cultivate courage and kindness in my soul, and then to let them flower in my relationships.