Sarah, a good friend of mine that I worked with in Korea, asked me yesterday,
“What do you consider the highest human virtue?”
My first thought was:
Active and relentless practice/pursuit of the person you claim/want to be. For the first step in creating integrity for humanity, in general and as a whole, is to have each person live their individual life with integrity.
Upon further consideration my answer was:
Living an “aware” life — in constant contemplation, consideration and meditation of each and every interaction you make with any person, place or thing in this universe. Striving ultimately only to continually “learn” and keeping an open mind as to how those learnings might be earned. Being aware, and in identification of your “self”, your weaknesses and strengths, and actively trying to both identify and strengthen the former, and also actively practice the latter to the benefit of all.
That was my answer on four double rum and cokes anyway.
She wrote me back:
“I would add compassion and authenticity.”
*smack to the forehead*
The very reason, I wear to this day, the Buddhist “eternal knot” around my neck — symbolizing and reminding me of my need to practice eternal compassion for all things that are tied up in this unending web of life.
And interestingly enough, I was confronted directly with all three of these virtues in one day. Actually, I am still in the midst of realizing my learnings from the *somewhat painful* experience.
I diligently try to practice a life of integrity. I do not lie. I do not steal. I do not cheat. And (probably one of the toughest for most people), I do not slander. My rule is that I am allowed to say or write anything I want, as long as I would be okay with seeing it as a headline on the front page of the newspaper the next day. That does not necessarily mean that it has to be positive or “nice” — but only that it be honest and owned.
One of the more interesting aspects of traveling alone is that you move forward, into new situations and with new people, naked of your history and devoid of your proven record. For some better, and for some worse — you stand only for the person you are at that very moment — the person your experiences have cumulatively created into being on that day. No one knows you were, or what you did yesterday — they base their understanding of you on who you are today.
Sometimes this is a blessing, sometimes a burden — and in my case today, certainly a challenge. For as already stated, I do not cheat, I do not lie, I do not steal, and I do not slander. Yet I have been accused of doing and saying things that are simply not in my character. Things that any one of my friends, family and co-workers from home, from school, from former jobs would laugh at the idea of. These people from my history would stand up to the podium, hold my hand, and swear by the bible for me. But none of those people are here. I have to fend for myself, which I normally find a fascinating feat. Prove myself only by my own actions today. All I can do is to continue to live by my word. Live with integrity. And know that as long as I can grasp onto that integrity and hold it close to myself, it will be my shield.
But at the same time it is lonely. Because my integrity has been questioned, I now question the quality of the friendships of those who question me. That’s what makes me sad. I bite my lip and try to practice compassion. For everyone has their own issues and learnings that they are dealing with. And I cannot fault them for their own personal battles — even if they chose to draw me into them. And also at the same time I know there is never a challenge presented without a learning offered. And just as it is my duty to offer compassion, it is also my duty to reflect and meditate on where my own faults may lay (for no one is ever without any blame — intentionally or not — certainly not excluding myself) — so that I may continue to uncover and identify my own weaknesses and uncover and identify my own learnings.
But right now, more than anything, I crave my good, true, known and loved friends. The ones that would outright laugh at the idea of my integrity ever being challenged. I crave my history. I crave my proven record. I crave my past. And for a free-spirited traveller who usually shuns attachment to anything, especially anything that exists outside the realm of “now” — that newfound appreciation alone — is a lesson worth the pain.