Have you noticed the disconnect? Everyone thinks they have high ethics and honorable behavior, yet the headlines seem to indicate that our society has big problems in living and leading with honor.
Recently, there has been an avalanche of horror stories from government workers – for example, where was the honor of the GSA group at the Las Vegas party? How about the Secret Service advance team’s party in Columbia? This week, we are learning just how dishonorable vice-presidential candidate John Edwards was with his wife, his mistress, and campaign donations. Last year we learned that some Atlanta Public School teachers and administrators were cheating by changing answers on standardized test scores. Yes, you heard it right; it was the teachers—not the students—who were indicted for cheating. The Atlanta papers have done similar investigative research in large cities around the nation and concluded that similar standardized test fraud is happening there also. It’s not a stretch to conclude that dishonorable behavior is epidemic—you can see it, hear it, and almost taste it in the air.
But, the stark reality is that we all live only one or two choices away from similar bad behavior.
But, the stark reality is that we all live only one or two choices away from similar bad behavior. Human beings are dynamic, living, vibrant, strong and resilient, but we are also frail in terms of will power to resist the temptations of the moment. Psychiatrist and author Dr. Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled) concluded that ultimately “sin”, in the broadest sense of the word, is due to laziness. When considering the epidemic in bad and unhealthy behavior, I think he has a good point. Our natural tendency is to take the easy way out; to look for wealth without work, success without sacrifice, to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The road of honor is less traveled because it is often the hard way. It takes discipline to keep our commitments and courage to make our walk match our talk.
Return with Honor
During more than five years as a POW in Vietnam, I watched and heard leaders endure hardship and pain in order to do the right and honorable thing. Often it took every ounce of energy they had to follow our code of conduct and stand firm in their loyalty to their country and fellow POWs. Our short but powerful motto of “Return with Honor” encompassed our mission, vision, and values all in just three words. To live and lead with honor was our highest goal. Thanks to our code of conduct and courageous leadership in our seemingly hopeless environment, the idea of living and leading with honor became our highest value—worth suffering to achieve.
To overcome that laziness requires self-government based on strong personal commitments undergirded by courage—a willingness to lean into the pain of our doubts and fears to do the right thing.
That human beings are lazy in self-discipline is obvious—just look at our problems caused by gluttony, alcohol abuse, smoking, adultery, lying, cheating, etc.—we each have our temptations. To overcome that laziness requires self-government based on strong personal commitments undergirded by courage—a willingness to lean into the pain of our doubts and fears to do the right thing.
What’s Up with You?
So what about you? What is your personal area of weakness and temptation, and what are you doing to guard your character? Whose example are you following? What about your leadership? Who is watching you and what are they learning about courage and character from your choices and behaviors?
Think about it—one person supervising the GSA party, one person in the Secret Service on the scene in Columbia, or one person in the Atlanta Public School District could have made the difference. When it comes time to lead with honor, will you stand and make the best choice regardless of the consequences? With courage and commitment, I believe that you can!