I was always reminded growing up to never bring shame to my last name. This was not a call to be perfect, but to practice integrity. Integrity is living your life in a way where your words are consistent with your deeds. It means to learn to be committed to your principles as a man and never fold under the pressure the world offers.
Integrity is living your life in a way where your words are consistent with your deeds. It means to learn to be committed to your principles as a man and never fold under the pressure the world offers.
We live in a day and age where it is so easy for us to compromise our values and principles. The threat of being canceled or criticized by others can feel like a death sentence. Consequently, compromising our values seems like the best way for us to preserve our place and influence in a world that does not show mercy or tolerance for those that do not align with the mainstream beliefs of the day.
However, what we sometimes fail to see is that compromising our values will always leave us to surrender control of our lives to others. When our values become things that are determined by other people, or by the dominant culture at the time, we lose the power to be true to who we really are. Instead of being men of agency and independence, men who can decide for themselves the code they live by and the cause they fight for, we will be reduced to merely a byproduct of popular opinion.
Our values and ethics are the things that make us distinct as men and individuals in a culture that pressures us to compromise. To be true to our values, to refuse to compromise our ethics despite the pressure we face from the outside to conform to the beliefs of the day, is the key to being men of integrity, men that are true to what makes them distinct individuals.
Despite the risk to our individual integrity when we compromise, why do so many of us choose to do so anyway? When given the choice between what we truly believe is right and what is popular in culture, why do so many men today choose the latter and not the former? Why are we seeing so many individuals in our culture fail to stay true to their values? Why are we seeing many leaders fall morally and ethically?
We compromise because we fear what we will potentially lose if we don’t.
It is because to live with integrity is costly. To live a life of integrity, to be consistent and committed to your core principles, means that your life may get a lot harder. Your reputation may be negatively impacted because you don’t follow the norms of the day, which could affect you in every area of your life. To be unwilling to compromise your values and principles may lead to losing a job, losing relationships and friendships, being ridiculed on social media, or being alienated from the broader culture. Consequently, many of us choose to compromise because we fear what we will potentially lose if we don’t. This fear is paralyzing, even for the strongest men.
While fear causes compromise because of what we might lose, the allure of inclusion and acceptance tempts us to compromise because of what we hope to gain. Gaining public approval and acceptance, to be included and to belong to the culture of the day can easily lure us aways from doing what is consistent with our values. To receive admiration from others is a very powerful thing, even if the admiration is received for the wrong reasons.
When we choose public approval at the expense of our character, we compromise what really matters and what our society really needs.
When we choose public approval at the expense of our character, we compromise what really matters and what our society really needs. It reveals where our true motives are and where our ambitions lie. If financial gain, notoriety or any other competing desires are more important to us than our character and virtues, we will always be easily influenced to conform to the world around us instead of being the kind of men that the world needs. At risk is not just our integrity, but the lives of those that depend on us.
When we approach life, when we are deciding the kind of man we want to be, there are several questions we must ask ourselves. These are life-defining questions that influence our decisions as well as every aspect of our lives. Do I seek out personal gain first or do I work for the common good? Am I going to live for myself or am I going to give my life to serving others? Will I be true to myself or give in to the pressure to conform? To do the hard thing, to be men of integrity despite the pressure we face, to overcome the fear of loss and the allure of gain requires us to be men who choose courage over compromise.
Courage is the ability to walk with integrity even under pressure or difficulty. Courage is not a one time action or a virtue that develops overnight. Rather, it is developed through constant training and practice. Choosing to be courageous over compromising does not begin in the big moments in our lives but in the small moments, in the daily choices we make that no one sees or knows. When we choose to stay true to ourselves, to what we believe, even when there is no external benefit in the short-term, is where true courage is forged.
The truth is, every man has or will experience the tension between compromising important values and exercising courage. There will always be situations and outside influences that will tempt us as men to choose fear or personal gain over integrity to our core values. There are constant voices in our society that tell us that if we do not compromise to the status quo, that our social or financial standing could be in jeopardy. These realities are real and important for us to learn how to navigate.
If we are to overcome the pressure to compromise and to become men who live lives of courage, there are a few things that we must learn to do. First, we must work towards a life of discipline. Discipline is simply exercising power under control. It is when the will and the mind work together to accomplish a desired outcome. Such discipline is vital if we are to possess the courage to be men of integrity. Discipline starts with clearly identifying the values and priorities that are most important to you in your personal, work, and family life. It is hard to be disciplined if you have not identified the core values and goals that you are going to be committed to. Writing them down gives you a written document to go back to in order to remember your values and to assess your commitment to them.
In addition, if you are going to possess the courage to be a man of integrity, you must learn to surround yourself with those who hold to the same values and hold to the same vision of integrity. Courage is a discipline that cannot be developed alone. We all need other men who model courage and who aspire to live a courageous life. Share with other brothers where you are most tempted to give in to the pressures of life and look for counsel and direction. In those moments of compromise, community can be the life raft that keeps us from drowning.
Finally, as a Christian, I have learned to look to the life of Christ as a model for what true courage looks like. In his life, we see a man who, though his life was marked by temptation and vicious attack, he was unwavering in his commitment to the Father and his love for others, even to the point of death (Phillipians 2:1-10). He did it, not because of what he alone would gain, but because of the benefit he knew it would produce in the lives of others. In the same way, when we are tempted to compromise, let us not just think about what we will lose if we don’t, or gain when we do. Rather, let us consider the lives that depend on us, that look to us to do what is right, even when it is difficult. Let our courage be a model for them to follow.
Compromise is always easy for us but it never bears the results we desire. Although courage, on the other hand, is difficult for all of us, when we commit to living courageous lives through training and practice, it produces the type of character and integrity that every man needs to be a steady leader in an ever-changing world.