mental health

Left, Right, Wrong

Choices of your integrity are difficult
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Some decisions in life are simple: “Do you want a piece of cake?” Of course you do. (Who says no to cake?) Others feel like life or death situations, even if they aren’t: “Want to come to the party?” (Okay, so some people find that an easy decision to make. But introverts agonize over it) Every day, you come across multiple points where you need to decide to go one way or another on a situation. And, for the most part, you feel good about your choices. But then you have those moments where you find yourself confronted with a crisis of conscious. Someone lays a concept out at your feet that tears at your sense of self, your integrity, and everything you believe in.

Now what do you do?

Actually, let me increase the odds a little. That person holding the cards out to you? They aren’t the average individual off the street. Nope. You’re looking at a manager, a client, someone with genuine authority. They possess the ability to influence your job, livelihood. The decision you make will follow you throughout your career, probably the remainder of your life. And that person? Isn’t interested in YOUR ethics or beliefs. They have their own agenda to advance.

Gets the anxiety going, doesn’t it? You can feel your heartbeat speeding up. And is it getting harder to breathe? You may as well have been handed an active bomb and asked to defuse it – with no training or knowledge of how to do so. (Oh, and there aren’t any red wires – in case you wanted to hope Hollywood gets it right) Do you follow what YOU know is right? Or do you fall in line like a good little sheep? Can you look yourself in the mirror if you break with your integrity? Can you stand up straight and face the consequences if you refuse?

And NOT making a decision? Not an option.

I know it sounds like the plot of a novel or movie, but this happens ALL THE TIME. And it crops up in every field. People present you with tasks that make your spine lock up. Every part of your mind and body say, “No!” as you stare at their face and visualize your “permanent record.” (You know, that thing that isn’t visible but somehow manages to exist) Your brain starts whirring a million miles a minute, arguing back and forth, while your palms sweat and your stomach turns. How much is your integrity worth? What value can you assign to it?

I’ve felt so afraid of reprisals when this happened. Actually, let me rephrase that: I FEEL so afraid of reprisals when this HAPPENS. And that sick sensation? I get it regardless of WHICH side I choose. Because on the one hand, I’m going against what I feel is right. On the other? I’m terrified I’m going to lose a job. You know the phrase, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t?” Yeah, very apropos for this situation. Which doesn’t necessarily make a person feel better.

But I’ve learned that holding the line on my integrity? That matters MORE.

And I know, for some people, the decisions I’ve made seem “simple.” A lot of the time, they were sales-type issues. Encouraging visitors to purchase photos when they were in the lorikeet station. Despite the fact I knew full-well no one wanted to pay for pictures they could take themselves. And after two days of coming home sick to my stomach? I stopped. I walked around with the camera untouched around my neck, even offering to take photos for other people. And I had fellow interns report me, received a lecture from my mentor about salesmanship (I have NEVER been a salesperson) – and wasn’t assigned to that rotation for the remainder of the summer. (Secretly, I wasn’t disappointed. Lorikeets view interns as personal chew toys – and I loathe birds in the first place)

Or when a manager made up cards for us to hand out to clients, encouraging them to give us five-star reviews. She was obsessed with our rankings on Google, Yelp, and Facebook. And she wanted as many positive reviews as possible. Personally, I believe people will write the reviews they feel, without any prompting or incentive. So, despite getting an entire box handed to me, I never delivered one. The box remained untouched in the drawer beside my computer. It meant frowns whenever I was asked how many I had left. And every meeting? A lecture on how our reviews sat. I’d say I felt bad about my decision, but I didn’t. At least the people that DID choose to go to those ranking sites did so of their free will (well, some of them did, anyway). I wasn’t pushing people to artificially inflate a score.

Recently? I found myself with an article that runs counter to knowledge I have. I started and stopped it at least six times, trying to match the tone of similar pieces. But that sick feeling wouldn’t go away. Was I really going to write BAD information? All of my background and first-hand experience, and I was going to toss it away for fear that my client might get upset? What mattered more? My integrity – displayed with my bio on the bottom of the page? Or following a popular trend? I decided my integrity, my NAME counted for more. So I wrote an honest article. And this isn’t the first time, either. I worked in the veterinary field for ten years. That means I’ve witnessed PLENTY of genuine science. Things other writers don’t know or grasp. And I’m not afraid to buck the system and tell readers the truth – even when it’s not popular.

You have to make your choice.

Is it scary as hell to look at those two sides and pick? You bet. And, as I said, it doesn’t matter which way you go, you end up feeling nauseous and horrible. But DEEP down, when you hold to your integrity, you BREATHE. There’s no compromise on who you are and what you believe. Instead, you draw a line in the sand that you refuse to cross. And, in the grand scheme of things, that stands for more than making someone in authority proud.

Your voice shakes when you tell that person you can’t go against yourself. Hell, your whole BODY shakes. And while they frown, lecture, and carry on, SOMEONE out there admires your inner strength. Your ability to maintain integrity goes on your permanent record, too. Maybe that person feels it’s a negative, but someone down the road will view it as a positive. And THAT’S what you need to remember. YOU need to view it as an accomplishment. Instead of losing something, you retained an important piece of yourself. Do you know how difficult that is? People fail to do so ALL THE TIME. They fall in line without a second thought. But when you choose you, your integrity? You win.

mental health

There’s Sorry and There’s Stupid

“Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that mother fucker’s reflection.”

~Lady Gaga

I spent a lot of time thinking through this post, considering it from different angles and reflecting back on my own personal experiences and lessons. The one truth I came to realize was that there will be a number of people that won’t agree with my perspective. Which is fine – I don’t claim to be the only answer out there. All I can say is what I’ve learned and realized over the years.

Trust is a tricky thing. Some people claim it’s something you earn, others that it’s something you hand out indiscriminately. Some people feel it’s strong, nearly unbreakable, while others consider it delicate and fragile. Some people think it can be repaired once broken, and others stare at the shattered fragments and see nothing but an incomplete jigsaw puzzle.

What do I see?

When I was younger, I believed that everyone deserved to be trusted. I handed it out to everyone with a smile, confident that I’d receive the same treatment. I was taught by those with authority around me that I was supposed to trust: my peers, my elders, my friends (not strangers – that was going too far). I was blissfully stupid, and I got exactly what I deserved: betrayal. And that first lesson was hard.

Know those trust falls?

My so-called friend thought it would be funny to let me fall. And I guess it was a riot because everyone else in the class laughed and made fun for days. Meanwhile, I was left with a sore back, sore head, a bitter taste in my mouth, and the first twist of the knife in my heart. Oh, the teacher scolded, but that was the end of things. One more betrayal. After all, kids will be kids, right?

No one can see the knife – be it in the heart or in the back – but it stays. Each betrayal buries it deeper until the trust that exists between those two individuals shatters completely. That’s the only thing that saves you from the damage being wrought by the knife. Whispered conversations behind the back (which you’re not supposed to hear but ALWAYS get around to you), “forgotten” promises, blatant lies – they all add up. People decide they’re “harmless,” and wave away the fact that they’re breaking your trust.

And then it snaps (or you do).

You stare at the destructive remains of the trusting bond you shared with a person, and you don’t know what to feel. Relief that they can’t hurt you anymore? Anger that you allowed them to hurt you for so long? Sadness that the bond is gone? Misery that you were manipulated? Despair that you’ll never be able to put those pieces back together? Everything at once? Fragile or strong, the trust is now gone.

Sometimes, that trust stays gone. Friendships die without trust (well, any relationship does). Is that a loss? No. True friends don’t behave that way, and you’re better off without them. Other times, those same people bounce back into your lives with big smiles and offer you the bond of trust again. Often, they act as if nothing ever happened, as if they never thrust a knife into your back and destroyed some part of your life.

And you know there’s another knife in their hands.

Do you extend that trust again? Or are you smart enough to walk away?

I spent a lot of my life being stupid, and I paid for it – over and over and over again. My back is covered in the metaphorical scars of betrayal. As time went on, I stopped trusting people, stopped extending it to those who showed smiles that were too big, used the words, “trust me.” Does that mean I made the right decisions all the time? No. I’ve removed knives from my back in the past year.

And it still sucks every time.

Now, I might accept apologies from liars, but I never trust another word from their mouths. I expect manipulators to continue doing so, and I watch everything they do. Promises made from people I know that don’t keep them are expected to be broken, and I make alternate plans. New people that come into my life are watched like a hawk, and I don’t trust them – not for a long time. I refuse to do trust falls.

Is this healthy?

I’m the first to admit it probably isn’t, but it’s what people have taught me. I spent too much of my life being stupid, and I’ve finished with that phase of things. There ARE people in my life I trust. They’ve stuck with me through everything and proved there are decent individuals in this world. Is the list long? No. Am I worried that it’s a short list? No. A tight, small, STRONG circle beats a big, weak, floppy circle any day.

So, yeah, maybe you won’t agree with my view on trust. That’s okay. If you haven’t experienced the same level of betrayal, I’m glad – and I mean that. I hope that continues in your life. No one deserves to carry a back full of scars.

mental health

An Inconvenient Lie

Always speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.

From the beginning, we’re taught that telling the truth is good and telling lies is bad; it might be lesson one, even before we learn the alphabet. That lesson is supposed to be ingrained on our brains from a very young age – reinforced at periodic intervals by teachers and respectable adults, lest we forget – so that we carry it through with us our entire lives. And I don’t have a problem with that; in fact, I applaud that system because I believe that truth is an important foundation of our society. No, the problem comes in with the fact that no one actually means a single word of the lesson in the first place. That’s right – it’s another case of a statement with an unspoken caveat:

Tell the truth…but only when it meets these specific criteria.

Those little asterisk start to pop up all over the place – a veritable constellation of excuses to water down, “little white lie,” or out-right ignore the facts (and, no, I’m not about to get into politics, so don’t panic). You’re not supposed to, “hurt someone’s feelings,” so people encourage you to skim off the truth when they ask you for an honest opinion. No one wants to be told they’re newborn baby looks like a bright red, screaming, wrinkled potato (I’m sorry, but unless you are pumped full of mommy-to-be hormones, a newborn looks like a newborn…and, just to complete the picture, NO ONE who has just been through labor looks like anything other than a war victim). I am the only person on the face of the planet who WANTS an honest opinion of how I look in a bathing suit (for the love of the Universe, do NOT let me walk out of that dressing room looking like a complete disaster!). As soon as someone uses the words, “give me your honest opinion,” they’re looking for anything else. What they’re really telling you is, “tell me what I want to hear.”

It gets worse than that, though, because there are repercussions to being honest that no one mentions in those oh-so-important lessons. Honesty and telling the truth come back to bite you in the ass in the form of isolation, nastiness, and gossip. People will do everything in their power to convince you NOT to tell the truth ever again. It doesn’t just come from your peers, either: people in positions of authority – people you have been taught your entire life to trust – will encourage you tell the truth and then penalize you for doing so by ignoring it in favor of someone else’s lies or discount your words entirely. Over and over, you are hammered with reasons to back down, to tuck the honesty away; after all, dishonesty gets rewarded and praised all around you on a constant basis. Examples surround us everywhere: television, newspaper, social media, popularized in movies and television shows, in books; lying is placed on an epic pedestal. Truth, in contrast, limps along in the dirt and mud, feebly trying to gain attention, usually without success.

But WHY?

Is it really that difficult to tell the truth? Is honesty that difficult a concept? The majority of little kids manage it just fine (seriously – if you ever want to know how you look in something, just ask a small child). True, if you ask them who broke something in the other room when no adult was present, you’re bound to get a whopper of a story, but when it comes to the rest of life, they have truth down pat. So why have so many people failed at keeping that lesson? And why has it twisted into this cynical point of view where people turn on the truth-teller, ostracizing them and threatening to burn them alive? Are people honestly that afraid of…well, honesty?

"No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth." - Plato