Living with integrity in your community, that is, acting from your core — adhering to your own set of principles — is most challenging when one or more of your community’s values offends, prompts or, worse, insists that you violate your own values.
How do you handle it when one (or more) of the shared values of your community seems to be at odds with your guiding principles?
I do not ask this question lightly. Once again, “What do you do when your guiding principles seem to stand at odds with the shared values of your community?” I do not presume to believe that the answer is easy, either. Yet, the question is one that people struggle with every day.
Over the course of this next week, let me offer a few approaches from among a spectrum of possible responses. I draw these from my personal and professional life:
The Slam Dunk,
The Defining Choice
The Defying Choice.
Whichever your approach, it is up to you.
The Slam Dunk
At 97 years old, my Uncle Anthony didn’t hesitate for a moment to share the principles that had guided him through eight decades of his adult life. Picture this: his caregiver, Joy, had just gently combed his hair, and I remarked how fortunate he was to have someone so nice looking after him. He added, “Yes, and she is so very pretty too.” I jokingly replied, “Careful, Anthony — Joy is married.” Without missing a beat, he cracked, “But she has a younger sister.” I tried to be witty and cracked back, “Keep it legal, pal.” It was just our usual good-humored banter. Yet, on this occasion, without any prompting from me, Anthony paused, and with great presence continued, “I always have. That’s how I’ve lived my life.” I couldn’t resist, so I asked him to say more about what was going through his mind. What he said in the next moment has become a memory that I will treasure for a long time. With ease and with a solid sense of self, my uncle said, quite simply, “I have lived by three principles my whole life: I never tell a lie. I always pay my taxes on time. And I never get in trouble with the law.”
Simple, clear, incisive. And each one a clear and true reflection of the man.
I never tell a lie. I never knew Uncle Anthony to say anything that he knew to be untrue. Oh sure, in our conversations, he had said things that were wrong or misinformed. We all do. But I had never known him to knowingly misrepresent.
I always pay my taxes on time. I have every confidence that he did. Yet, there was much more to this simple idea, much more that reflected a larger principle at play. Anthony knew what his obligations were to the people in his various and often overlapping communities, and he accepted and met those obligations head-on and without begrudging them. When he made a promise, he kept it. When he made a commitment, he followed through. When he assumed responsibility out of his own initiative, he persevered.
I never get in trouble with the law. And, to my knowledge, he never did — not even a speeding ticket. Yet once again, his words only touched the surface of a broader value that all who knew him witnessed regularly and routinely. Anthony had a solid, personal sense of what right action was, and what it was not. No one was going to tell him differently. Yes, there were those who disagreed with him. I certainly did, on occasion. Regardless, he relied on an internal gyroscope to stay true to his sense of right action every day. Whether in his professional life as an accountant, at home in a marriage of 52 years, in his community as a volunteer on the finance committees of his sports club and condo association or as the patriarch of an extended family of nephews and nieces (three generations’ worth!), my uncle played by a succinct set of rules. If challenged to act differently by the influences or the winds swirling around him, however tempting or menacing those winds might be, for Anthony Alduino, the answer to What do I do? was a slam dunk: Anthony did it his way.
Excerpted from The Citizen Leader