Oh boy. If ever there was a phrase almost worn out from overuse in our house it is this: Doing your best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment. I say it so often, my children's eyes roll right around to the back of their heads when I say it; but it's true!
This is one of the strongest lessons I learned as a child: "Integrity Karan, always!" and it drives me forward as much today as it did way back then. The benefits from this lesson are manifold.
WHY CREATE UNNECESSARY STRESS?
If you always do your best, activating the highest levels of integrity your character will allow, you don't have to remember lies and deceptions - which is great if you have a hopeless memory. Lies and deception require a great deal of attention and (nervous) energy to maintain them, which is better spent on other, more pleasant and positive areas of your life. Isn't it preferable to live your life free from the constraints of remembering what you've said, to whom and when? Why create this unnecessary stress for yourself? Keep it simple and live with integrity.
Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral values. Integrity is also defined as the state of being whole and undivided, so both definitions validate my point here. If we think about the people in our lives, are we not all attracted to those with principles, whose word we can automatically accept as true, whose intentions we trust as pure? Conversely, isn't it also true that the people who do not habitually embrace integrity often slip on their life path, losing their way, having lost sight of their greater good?
Whilst you will not (necessarily) be universally adored by living your life with integrity, you will be respected. People may not appreciate your weird sense of humour, your politics, or even your dress sense, but they will be able to respect what you say, and the reasons behind what you do; even if they disagree. Exercising a lack of integrity makes people distrustful and suspicious of you. Who, honestly, would deliberately cultivate this impression of themselves; what good is achieved, and for what benefit, by doing such a thing?
YOUR LIFE IS AN EXAMPLE
My late father-in-law was a quietly brilliant and wonderful man. He was a gentle soul, softly spoken and unassumingly wise. He was the epitome of this famous quote, and he influenced me greatly: My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch.
By living in integrity, we encourage others to behave accordingly, and to reciprocate the respect and tolerance we show towards them. Ultimately this is how we could make the world a nicer place to live in, but there are no guarantees. We will however be able to say, hand on heart, that we did the best we could, and did not let ourselves down. After all, how other people treat us is their karma, how we choose to respond is ours.
I am also reminded of my friendship with Bev, all the way back when we were much younger. Bev and I were diametrically opposed, politically speaking, and would frequently end up having heated discussions, especially when an election was looming. It got to the point where we had to agree not to discuss politics, for the sake of our friendship. This was our dynamic. Now, my late father-in-law and I were also diametrically opposed, politically speaking, but never did either of us ever raise our voices in disagreement. This was the dynamic our relationship. My father-in-law always encouraged healthy debate, but never the fiery exchanges. He led with quiet and unassuming authority, and I learned a great deal from him; to the point where I am now mindful of living my life as an example for my children. Whenever I may have been tempted to behave without integrity in the past, I was quickly reminded of the two pairs of eyes, blinking in their innocence, watching my every move. Nothing sharpens your moral compass and boundaries faster, I can tell you.
LIFE WILL SURPRISE YOU
My beloved Nanna used to take my brother and I to the Salvation Army every Sunday morning. Nanna died when I was eight, so the deeply religious amongst you will have to forgive the sketchiness of the following bible story we were taught, which is roughly as follows:
A rich man asked a builder to build him a house, no expense spared. The builder duly built the house, using the finest materials and resources money could buy. He worked long and hard, ensuring only his best attention and endeavours were afforded to the task. When the house was finally complete the rich man was delighted with the result, it was a masterpiece, and the builder was understandably proud of his achievement.
Shortly after completion, the rich man asked the builder to build a second house, an exact replica of the first - no expense spared. This time however the builder chose to use cheaper materials, and didn't put as much hard work and devotion into the completion of the second house. The builder was tired and wanted to enjoy greater profit from the second house, which was completed in the same amount time, because the builder was taking more time off than he was perfecting each component task.
The rich man was again delighted by the seemingly identical house, little realising it was built with cheaper materials and to less exacting standards. The rich man then presented the second house to the builder as a gift, a token of his thanks and appreciation for a job well done on the first house. The builder had effectively sold himself short by not continuing to live in integrity when he had the chance.
You never know what's around the corner. You never know what surprises life has in store for you. You never can tell what other people are thinking, are capable of, or are prepared to do. Why sell yourself short by being less than you truly are? Maya Angelou teaches us:
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better - Dr Maya Angelou
SCHOOL. WORK. LIFE
The reason my kids' eyes roll to the back of their heads is because I frequently remind them how doing their best in every moment will pay its rewards when the time is right. For example, my 13 year-old daughter is starting to appreciate how she is now getting close to the "business end" of her school career. In the near future she will be selecting her options, choosing the subjects she will study for exams, and eventual higher education (she wants to be a teacher).
From Day One of her Reception year, but more from Day One of her senior school Year 7, I advised my daughter on this one principle point: If you do your best in every minute, of every lesson, it will make your eventual revision and exam sitting so much easier for you. Those classmates who opt to mess around, not listen and waste their educational opportunities will feel the pressure to learn, rather than revise, if they want to achieve results for career success. Why create unnecessary stress for yourself?
Simply by doing your best in every given moment you're a) a thoroughly decent human being, b) widely respected (even if not universally adored), c) living in a reduced stress environment, with the corresponding health benefits that go along with that, d) more likely to achieve goals you set for yourself, and finally e) putting yourself in the best position possible for the next moment after this, and then the one after that etc, etc
By taking the high road less travelled, by remaining true to you, by honouring and respecting yourself and others, you create the best world possible for you and yours. That's not to say you won't have problems, trials or challenges, but you will be ideally placed to deal with them more effectively. Like so much in life, you ultimately get what you give.
Karma is a bitch, but only if you are first.